Childless tech employees aren’t being offered same ‘special treatment’ as staff with families

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Childless employees of tech companies have been demanding that they be given the same benefits extended to parents during the pandemic.

Workers at Facebook, Twitter and Salesforce have all complained about discrimination, The New York Times reported on Saturday.

Parents have hit back, however.

‘The time off that parents are getting isn’t a vacation,’ one pointed out.

Tech companies have been among the most generous to parents - sparking a backlash

Tech companies have been among the most generous to parents – sparking a backlash 

Facebook offered 10 weeks of paid time off for employees whose child couldn't attend school

Facebook offered 10 weeks of paid time off for employees whose child couldn’t attend school

Tech firms were among the first to pivot to working from home, and among the first to roll out policies to help working parents.

In March, Facebook offered up to 10 weeks of paid time off for employees if they had to care for a child whose school or day care facility had closed, or for an older relative whose nursing home was not open. 

Google and Microsoft extended similar paid leave to employees dealing with children at home or a sick relative.  

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive and a father of two, announced that the company would not be conducting its usual employee assessments for the first half of 2020 because there was ‘so much change in our lives and our work.’

Every Facebook employee would receive bonus amounts usually reserved for very good performance scores.

That angered some employees without children, who felt that if they worked more they should be paid more.

On August 20 Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, hosted a videoconference for the entire staff, and more than 2,000 employees voted to ask her what more Facebook could do to support those without children, since its other policies had benefited parents.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, said the policies benefit all staff

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, said the policies benefit all staff

Online, the Times article sparked fierce debate, with parents saying it was not a vacation

Online, the Times article sparked fierce debate, with parents saying it was not a vacation

The question elicited fierce debate on the message board beneath the videoconference screen.

One employee said it was ‘unfair’ that non-parents could not take the additional 10 weeks off, and another said it was ‘easy breezy’ for parents to be granted leave, but hard for all others.

A parent hit back, saying the question to Sandberg was ‘harmful’.

Another parent wrote, in screenshots seen by The New York Times: ‘Please don’t make me and other parents at Facebook the outlet for your understandable frustration, exhaustion and anger in response to the hardships you’re experiencing due to Covid-19.’

Sandberg said she ‘disagreed with the premise of the question’ – denying that the 10 weeks additional leave and freeze on performance ratings were primarily benefiting parents. 

She added that larger-than-normal bonuses had been given to all employees and that everyone had received a $1,000 stipend to buy equipment for working from home.

She said that Facebook has tried to design its leave policies to be ‘inclusive.’

‘I do believe parents have certain challenges,’ she said. ‘But everyone has challenges, and those challenges are very, very real.’

Following the discussion, chats about the subject have been shut down, three employees told the paper.

Facebook said in August that the leave policy would remain in place through June 2021 and that employees who had already taken some leave this year would be afforded another 10 weeks next year. 

Facebook said all employees could take up to three days to cope with physical or mental health issues without a doctor’s note. 

It separately offers 30 days of emergency leave for all employees if they need to care for a sick family member. 

All Facebook employees receive an unlimited number of sick days and receive at least 21 vacation days a year.

‘We’ve added more support for all of our employees and encourage everyone to have open discussions about the challenges they’re facing,’ said Liz Bourgeois, a company spokeswoman. 

‘In too many workplaces, trying to hide the added difficulties of caregiving or well-being is yet another burden people have to carry, and we don’t want that to be the case at Facebook.’

Online, people debated The New York Times article, with one pointing out that many of those complaining could take multiple cigarette breaks during the day. 

The New York Times article sparked a fierce debate online about the challenges of 'WFH'

The New York Times article sparked a fierce debate online about the challenges of ‘WFH’

Parents point out that juggling the demands of childcare with working from home is intense

Parents point out that juggling the demands of childcare with working from home is intense

Salesforce has also seen its policies for childcare leave questioned by childless employees

Salesforce has also seen its policies for childcare leave questioned by childless employees

At Twitter, one employee who did not have children accused another who did of not pulling their weight.

A row escalated on the internal messaging board, with many springing to the defense of the parent.

Twitter provides its staff with unlimited time off, to take as they see fit provided they get their job done – one person then accused parents of taking more time off.

And at Salesforce, where parents were offered six weeks of paid time off, two childless employees complained that the policy seemed to put parents’ needs ahead of theirs. 

Erin Kelly, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Business, who studies workplace policies and management practices, told the paper that companies should do a better job of explaining how the policies benefit all.

‘A question that we might ask the employees who are feeling some frustration about their co-workers being on leave is what do you think is going to happen if that person quits?’ she said. 

‘You’re going to actually be stretched further.’

Melinda Gates tweeted in May that finding a workable solution was now a priority for all companies. 

‘America’s caregiving system was already broken,’ she said.

‘Now it’s threatening our country’s ability to safely reopen.

‘To ensure a fast and inclusive recovery, governments, business leaders, and investors need to act.’ 

Melinda Gates tweeted in May that governments and managers 'need to act' to find answers

Melinda Gates tweeted in May that governments and managers ‘need to act’ to find answers

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