DoorDash Glitch Gives Workers Thousands of Dollars, Then Takes It Away

"I was almost in tears. I thought I was going to have to work for two months for free."
May 26, 2021, 2:07pm
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On the Clock is Motherboard's reporting on the organized labor movement, gig work, automation, and the future of work.

On Monday, many DoorDash food delivery drivers in California logged into the DoorDash app and thought they'd struck the jackpot. Their accounts were flush with thousands of dollars they didn't expect labelled as "pay adjustment," according to screenshots posted on social media groups and Reddit forums. 

"This happening to anyone else?" a Reddit thread, accompanied by a screenshot of a $3,349.50 deposit, was titled. Some drivers posted screenshots showing more than $6,000 in "pay adjustments" from DoorDash. 

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"My jaw dropped when I saw over $3,000 in my account," Dave, a DoorDash delivery driver in Auburn, California who is in one of the Facebook groups, told Motherboard. "I thought maybe they're giving me backpay."

Motherboard allowed Dave to use his first name only because he feared retaliation. According to screenshots of Dave's earnings history, it takes him about five weeks to earn $3,000. 

But Dave and other DoorDash drivers didn't get to keep this financial windfall. Workers logged in to their DoorDash accounts later that day to find themselves thousands of dollars in the negative—and a notice that they could not cash out new earnings until they paid off the debt. "You cannot transfer because you currently owe -$6,339.32. Doing more deliveries will reduce the amount owed," one of these notices posted in a Reddit thread said. Online, drivers compared the situation to "indentured servitude" and "slavery." 

As it turns out, the thousands of dollars in cash and debts weren't real, but caused by a glitch in DoorDash's mileage calculator—which is supposed to pay drivers in California 30 cents per mile driven. In January, a law known as Proposition 22, which gig economy companies including DoorDash spent millions lobbying for, went into effect. The law requires gig economy companies to pay their workers the 30 cents per mile, the pay "adjustment" that led to this week's DoorDash glitch. DoorDash apologized to its workers and said it would make sure this didn't happen again, according to an email obtained by Motherboard sent late on Monday. 

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But given DoorDash's history of alleged rampant tip theft, data breaches, sub-minimum wage pay, and the volatile conditions of working in the gig economy, the episode sent many DoorDash gig workers into an all-too-familiar state of confusion and brought up the feeling that they have no control over their earnings. DoorDash's payment algorithm, which makes it impossible to figure out how pay is calculated, compounded the confusion and fear.

“Last week, there was a brief and temporary error in the Dasher app for a very small number of California Dashers, which displayed earnings based on incorrect mileage calculations," a spokesperson for DoorDash told Motherboard. "We have contacted the impacted Dashers and corrected the mileage to reflect their accurate earnings."

On Monday, Dave's account had shown more than $3,000 in debt to DoorDash, according to screenshots reviewed by Motherboard. "I was almost in tears. I'm fighting for custody of my kid and I got attorney fees and rent to pay," Dave said. "I thought I was going to have to work for two months for free."

Later that evening, Dave received an email from DoorDash "sincerely apologizing for the error," and promising to see his corrected earnings within the next day. 

DoorDash did not respond to a question about how often it compensates workers for miles driven, and its payment summaries do not make this transparent to workers. Though the situation has been resolved, gig workers' earnings histories still show thousands of dollars of income they never received—and they worry they'll be paying for it when they file their taxes. DoorDash said that the error will not impact drivers’ reported earnings for tax purposes.