Uber is in the limelight again for another employee horror story after one of its engineers died by suicide.
The employee’s family alleges that workplace stress and racism contributed to a decline in mental health before Joseph Thomas’ death.
Now his wife, Zecole Thomas, has hired a lawyer to hold Uber accountable and fight for what she thinks her family deserves: workers’ compensation benefits. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Uber denied her claim after her husband died in August, nearly five months after working for the company.
Uber has faced a relentless stream of criticism for a terrible workplace culture described as sexist, demeaning and rule breaking, so much so that it’s hired a Harvard Business School professor to help make improvements. While experts say it’s hard to pinpoint a single cause for suicide, Thomas’ family says working at Uber had a pronounced effect on his mental health.
According to Uber, Thomas hadn’t worked at the company long enough for his workers’ compensation benefits to cover so-called “psychiatric injuries,” which under California law, include impacts on mental health. But his family’s lawyer, Richard Richardson, says there is an exception for people like Thomas, telling the Chronicle that Thomas’ wife and two kids could get as much as $722,000.
Thomas worked as a software engineer for the San Francisco-based company. As the Chronicle notes, the 33-year-old passed over an opportunity at Apple to take a job with the notoriously hard-charging Uber. Thomas reportedly believed that there was room to grow at the relatively young company.
But his dreams quickly soured. “His personality changed totally,” his wife told the paper. “He was horribly concerned about his work, to the point it was almost unbelievable. He was saying he couldn’t do anything right.”
His father, Joe Thomas, added that his son toiled long hours and was in constant fear of losing his job.
“He was always the smartest guy in the room,” Joe explained. And then, after working at Uber, “he went down the tubes. He became someone with very little confidence in himself. The guy just fell apart.”
Family members think racism may have been at play as well. According to a March 2017 diversity report, Uber’s tech team is only 1 percent African American. Thomas was black.
An Uber spokesperson, meanwhile, says employees are praying for the family.
“No family should go through the unspeakable heartbreak the Thomas family has experienced,” Uber spokeswoman Eva Behrend told the Chronicle. “Our prayers and thoughts are with them.”
If you want to talk to someone or are experiencing suicidal thoughts, text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Here is a list of international resources.