The first time I was deactivated I was working for Instacart. I was horrified but I truly believed it was a mistake! I think an actual person made the decision. I received an email. It read:
In order for Instacart to be able to fairly investigate an allegation of you using profanity and threatening an apartment complex owner reported on 1/7/2019, Instacart has temporarily suspended access to your Instacart shopper account. While your account is suspended, you will not be able to provide services on the Instacart platform.
Instacart would like to provide you an opportunity to present a written statement. Please click this link to view the type of information that will be helpful to provide in the statement. You may provide additional information if you would like. Please reply to this email with your statement within 48 hours. We will be in touch within 2-3 days of receiving your statement with next steps.
At the time I thought it was a fairly civilized response to such a horrible complaint. And they let me continue working for eight days after "the incident." I completed 28 orders (shopped and delivered without a problem) in those eight days. The complaint sure caught me off guard because I didn't know why anyone would say this about me. It must have been a mistake. So I immediately provided my written statement and waited 2-3 days for my "next steps" as instructed.
I followed up on the 4th day, the 5th day, the 6th day–each and every day–by emails, and phone calls that were never answered. I take that back. Calls were answered with recorded messages of unavailable representatives, and emails were replied to with "based on a review by the Instacart team, I see your account is inactive and I'm unable to reactivate your account at this time."
Miraculously, the unavailable representatives were available to answer the phone when I called with my caller ID blocked! I explained the situation, was transferred to a “specialist” and my account was reactivated before I hung up.
The horrible false allegation cost me $1,000 in earnings for no reason except that my “case” fell through the cracks at Instacart. The convenient explanation (and "sincerest apologies") was that they were waiting for some additional data that finally arrived. It was unfair that Instacart didn’t consider my clean record, constant compliments, hefty tips, or even my explanation.
Two years later
The second time, I was deactivated by Uber because my car registration expired. It hadn't, but Uber deactivated me without warning on October 1, and according to their records (and mine), the registration was valid through October 18th. It took 4 full days to get reactivated even after they agreed my documents were current and valid.
The third time, I was deactivated by Uber (again for my registration) on October 18th because they would not accept my renewal documentation (the documentation acceptable to the cops if they pulled me over).
After going to the DMV, paying an extra fee for a replacement, I wasn't even given a temporary registration. Because I paid for it online, it was already in the mail, and they told me I’d have to wait.
After hours on the phone with UBER (actually, a few minutes of talk time and hours of being on hold), they allowed me to go back online. I was shocked. But it was at 4am when that finally happened so I decided to wait until later that day–after some much-needed sleep.
That was a mistake!
The fourth time, I was deactivated by Uber later that same day, October 19th, because my background check was pending. Uber didn't start the background check process until it had already expired, but I was kept offline and told it would take up to two weeks to be completed, reviewed, and reactivated (or not). They didn’t lie. It did take nearly two weeks. No money. No apology. No help.
There are worse situations
I listen to the stories of other app-based workers and their unfair deactivations (some quite horrible) and I count myself lucky that the experiences I had were minor by comparison. The problem has become so widespread that RDU teamed up with the Asian Law Caucus to gather deactivation data. They analyzed that data and identified several interesting tidbits of information.
The results of the study can be found here and it has created quite a stir among drivers nationwide. There may be some comfort in knowing you're not alone, but it provides little relief for the lost earnings we suffer as a result of these unfair, unfounded, and unjustified terminations.
We need to do something about it, and RDU is working diligently to facilitate a permanent solution to this widespread problem. In the interim, we have a legal clinic available for drivers who have been unfairly deactivated. The only step required to gain access to this valuable help is completing a request form you can access in the resources listed below..
My personal experience with these deactivations were all quite frustrating but at least they weren't permanent. The lost earnings really hit me hard, but I realize it could have been so much worse.
Without legal advice, or legal recourse, the gig-companies seem to think workers don't matter, and that a couple thousand dollars in lost opportunity is nothing they need to worry about (as they sit atop a billion dollar bank account). But when a person can't afford to build even a modest nest egg to fall back on, is not entitled to unemployment benefits, or is struggling to keep their car in good working order, a couple thousand dollars of lost earnings can take many months to recover from.