- Instacart, DoorDash, and other delivery services regularly deactivate workers.
- Unexplained deactivations are commonplace for some gig workers, according to accounts from drivers.
- Some workers are fighting back by requesting arbitration.
Last fall, an Uber Eats worker in Oregon was delivering a pie when the customer changed the drop-off location.
The new destination would’ve turned a 10-minute trip into an hourlong drive for him, so he contacted Uber Eats support and asked whether he could drop the order. The agent on the other end approved it, he told Insider, and assured him that it wouldn’t negatively affect him.
A few days later, his account was deactivated. He suspected it was the dropped order that triggered the deactivation.
“All of a sudden, it says my account is under investigation for fraud,” he said. “It just says ‘fraud.’ It doesn’t give any details.”
The Uber Eats driver estimated he spent the next two months exchanging messages with dozens of support agents, but none could restore his account. Most reiterated that he had been deactivated for “fraud” but declined to provide specifics, according to the screenshots he shared with Insider.
Sudden, unexplained deactivations have become commonplace for workers on gig delivery apps, according to accounts from these workers. In many cases, workers’ options for getting back on an app are limited to binding arbitration or appealing by email, according to the terms they agree to when they start delivering orders.
Nearly all described being deactivated suddenly, including after minor issues or problems beyond their control, such as traffic while en route to a customer or being accidentally charged for an extra item by a retailer. Many were booted without explanation or a chance to deny or defend themselves.
Some of the workers spoke on condition of anonymity, citing professional repercussions. Their identities are known to Insider.
“Removing a driver’s access to the Uber platform is a serious decision, and we do not take it lightly,” an Uber spokesperson told Insider.
The company said that it took “appropriate and proportionate actions” against those who violated its community guidelines.
The process companies follow for deactivations is often unclear
When they sign up to work for delivery apps, gig workers agree to terms and conditions that dictate missteps that can lead to deactivation. Stealing orders or harassing customers are obvious examples.
Instacart, for instance, says that it can “immediately terminate” its contract with a shopper for various reasons. Those include specific offenses, such as regularly failing to deliver complete orders to customers, as well as broader ones, such as “engage in or encourage fraudulent conduct,” its website says.
But the workers Insider spoke with said they’d been removed from apps for vague reasons and small mix-ups, including some that didn’t appear to be their fault.
In February, Steve got what appeared to be a form letter from Grubhub, an app he’d spent two years delivering for.
The email said his “service falls below the industry standard for like services” in the region, in “direct violation” of his agreement with Grubhub.
“In accordance with Section 11 of the delivery partner agreement, you will no longer be contracted to perform delivery services with Grubhub going forward,” it added. “This decision is final and you will not have the opportunity to appeal the termination.”
Steve, whom Insider is identifying by first name only, made his living delivering for Grubhub, as well as for Instacart and DoorDash, in Virginia. He said his attempts to reach anyone at Grubhub to get more answers were unsuccessful.
“There was not much of a process to it,” he told Insider. “They didn’t give me an opportunity to dispute or appeal. It was one and done.”
Jason Picon of Texas, another gig worker who spoke with Insider, received the same deactivation note in February after driving for Grubhub for about three years.
When Insider showed Grubhub the form letter Steve and Jason received deactivating their accounts, Grubhub said the message sent to the drivers included an error.
“There is a dispute resolution process outlined in our delivery partner agreement that’s available to all drivers, so that notice was incorrect and we’re making sure it’s corrected,” a Grubhub spokesperson told Insider. “We encourage those drivers to reach out using the process outlined in their contract if they want to dispute their removal.”
‘There is no day in court’ for gig workers who are deactivated
Even when gig workers know the specific issue that caused the deactivation, it can be hard to fight the delivery apps to be reinstated.
One Instacart shopper in California said he was deactivated after a Total Wine store charged him more for a bottle of bourbon than the price indicated on the app. He told Insider he called an Instacart support agent who approved the purchase and added money to his company-issued debit card for that purpose.
He was deactivated later that day.
Instacart cited the Total Wine transaction and said the shopper had committed a “misappropriation of funds,” according to screenshots of chats that the shopper had with support agents. It added that the shopper had made “several unauthorized purchases” but didn’t point to any transactions other than the Total Wine purchase. The company didn’t offer additional details, according to emails from Instacart viewed by Insider.
Appeals to deactivations are reviewed by Instacart’s trust and safety team, “who thoroughly review the appeals and respond based on the evidence provided,” an Instacart spokesperson said.
The company added: “If a shopper can verify that they were deactivated for reasons outside of their control, their appeal will be approved and they will be reinstated.”
Rikki Nudelman, a DoorDash driver who lives in Central California, found her DoorDash account deactivated in June after five years of lucrative gig work in an affluent celebrity haven between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. Last year, she said earned $80,000 delivering food for DoorDash.
“The whole thing came as a total shock,” she said. “I’ve never been fired.”
After calling DoorDash, she said she was told she was deactivated because of late deliveries. She appealed the decision and noted her record. Over five years as a delivery driver for DoorDash, she had logged 7,000 deliveries, had high customer ratings, and was a Top Dasher, a program that rewards drivers with perks.
Nudelman’s appeal was denied.
The email, which was viewed by Insider, said the company was “able to confirm that a violation occurred and directed her to her contract with DoorDash.
“Please reference the “Abusing the platform” section within the Service Provider Platform Access Policy to get more information. If you wish to submit another appeal, you will need to wait 90 days from the date of this email for DoorDash to review your next appeal.”
Nudelman said she made several more attempts to appeal but has had trouble finding a live person to talk to and faced “an endless loop of phone calls and emails, which seem either to be ignored or answered by robots.”
“There is no day in court with a flesh-and-blood human being,” she said.
“In nearly 60 years in the workplace, I have never felt so devalued and unsupported,” she said.
When Insider asked DoorDash for comment, a spokesperson said Nudelman “was repeatedly (more than a dozen times) excessively late with deliveries, indicating abuse of the system to inflate earnings.” Nudelman denied the claims.
The company said she was paid by the hour, a stipulation of Proposition 22, a new California law. By making deliveries late, DoorDash said, she was “fraudulently inflating earnings.”
“We recognize the serious impact that losing access to that platform can have,” DoorDash said in a statement. “That’s why we never take the decision to deactivate a Dasher lightly, and only do so if they engage in severe conduct or repeatedly violate the clear and fair policies they agree to follow during the onboarding process.”
It added: “While no process will ever be perfect, we’re constantly engaging with Dashers, merchants and customers to find ways to improve while maintaining the safety, security, and quality that all members of the DoorDash community have come to expect.”
A new law could help delivery gig workers from being automatically deactivated
Sergio Avedian, a multiapp delivery driver who shares his gig-work experiences on The Rideshare Guy blog and YouTube channel, said the unjust deactivation of gig drivers was a “huge problem.”
He gets about 15 emails a week from frustrated ride-hailing and food-delivery workers who say they have been deactivated and have been ghosted by the delivery apps when they try to defend themselves, he said.
Avedian said he’d like to see legislation passed in every city in the US that would protect drivers from being automatically deactivated.
Legislation in Seattle provides a model.
The city recently passed a measure that makes it harder for apps to deactivate gig drivers. For example, a driver refusing too many orders is not an acceptable reason for getting fired under the new law. It also requires a human, not a computer, to review any appeal that a driver makes to a deactivation decision.
“Anytime a driver is suspended or deactivated, an appeal has to be made in front of humans as opposed to getting fired by AI,” Avedian said.
When asked whether employees were involved in deactivations, Instacart and Uber did not respond directly to Insider’s questions but said humans were involved in appeals. Grubhub and DoorDash told Insider that employees determined the deactivations of drivers.
Getting justice after being deactivated requires a lot of work — or a stroke of luck
Despite the odds, some workers have either gotten compensated for their deactivations or have had their accounts reactivated.
One former Instacart contractor won $28,000 in arbitration with the delivery company last year. Instacart deactivated him in 2021 after a Walmart self-checkout kiosk charged him for an item he didn’t intend to purchase while he was ringing up a customer’s order.
For some gig workers, getting back on the app can happen as seemingly randomly as deactivation.
One day in early January, the Uber Eats worker in Oregon, reinstalled the app on his phone. Uber hadn’t told him anything, but his account was suddenly back up and able to accept orders, he said.
A few weeks later, an email from Uber, which Insider reviewed, confirmed his reactivation.
“We appreciate the patience you showed while we resolved this issue,” it said, “and we apologize for the inconvenience.”
Do you work for Instacart, DoorDash, Uber Eats, or another delivery service and have a story idea to share? Reach out to these reporters at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.