Google nixes paying out remainder of maternity and medical leave for laid-off employees

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A man walks through Google offices on January 25, 2023 in New York City.
Leonardo Munoz | Corbis News | Getty Images

Google is indicating to ex-staffers, who got laid off while on maternity and medical leave, that they won’t get paid for all of their remaining time off, according to former employees and written correspondence shared with CNBC.

More than 100 former workers have organized a group they call “Laid off on Leave.” They’re asking executives to pay them for the weeks and months they were approved to take off before the job cuts were announced in January. Those who spoke with CNBC said they’ve been told they’ll only receive pay through their designated end date, along with standard severance.

The group of former employees sent a letter to executives, including CEO Sundar Pichai and Chief People Officer Fiona Cicconi, on three separate occasions, most recently on March 9, without receiving a response. The group includes people who were approved for or are currently on maternity leave, baby bonding leave, caregiver’s leave, medical leave and personal leave. 

Early last year, Google announced it would be increasing parental leave for full-time employees to 18 weeks for all parents and 24 weeks for birth parents. Cicconi said at the time that the company wanted to offer “extraordinary benefits” so employees could “spend more time with their new baby, look after a sick loved one or take care of their own wellbeing.”

But Google parent Alphabet has since entered its most severe era of cost cuts in its almost two decades on the public market. The company said in January that it was eliminating 12,000 jobs, representing about 6% of its workforce, to reckon with slowing sales growth following an extended period of expansion in the tech sector.

Pichai said U.S.-based employees would receive 16 weeks of severance pay plus two weeks for each additional year they worked at Google. The company also said it would include paid time off in the severance.

Those who were laid off while on medical leave are urging Pichai and other leaders to provide immediate clarity on the matter because of an upcoming deadline: official severance terms are expected to arrive as soon as March 31.

The Laid off on Leave group sent its first email to executives in January, and shared specific examples of Google employees impacted by the job cuts while on their previously approved leave.

One woman said she was laid off a week after her maternity leave was approved. Another said she received notice while on maternity leave, a week before she was due to give birth.

Some discussed the matter publicly.

“Exactly a week after receiving the text and sharing the exciting news that my maternity leave was approved, I got the already widely talked-about email letting me know that I was among the 12k terminated,” a Google program manager wrote on LinkedIn. “Easy target? Maybe.”

Another longtime employee, Kate Howells, posted that she gave birth just before receiving notice.

“On 1/20/23 at 7:05 am while in the hospital bed holding my hours-old newborn I learned that I was part of the #thegolden12K of Googlers who had been laid off,” Howells wrote. “I was a Googler for 9.5 years.”

A Google spokesperson told CNBC in an email that departing employees are eligible for stock and salary for their “60+ day notice period” and reiterated Pichai’s memo regarding 16 weeks of pay and an additional two weeks for every year of service.

The company didn’t address whether it would cover full medical leave on top of the severance payout.

“As we shared with impacted employees, we benchmarked this package to ensure the care we’re providing compares favorably with other companies, including for Googlers on leave,” the spokesperson said.

‘Good faith effort’

Multiple people whose jobs were terminated told CNBC their access to doctors and specialists through Google’s on-site One Medical facility was also cut off the day of the layoff notification. That disrupted treatment that was ongoing at the time, they said. A laid-off senior software engineer said he lost in-person access to his primary care doctor of three years.

Some ex-employees said they were given the option to continue seeing their doctors virtually but were otherwise advised to find replacements.

The group of laid-off workers highlighted the fact that this is taking place during Women’s History Month.

“Google is currently showcasing its workplace commitments and its participation in Women’s History Month through various products and services campaigns,” the group wrote in an email sent to Google executives. “We agree with you: it’s very important to recognize the hardships that still disproportionately affect women inside the workplace.”

Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks at a panel at the CEO Summit of the Americas hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on June 09, 2022 in Los Angeles, California.
Anna Moneymaker | Getty Images

They said the company still has the opportunity to fix the problem.

“We respectfully request a good faith effort to honor the terms of our original parental and/or disability leave arrangements for all leaves that were approved as of January 20, 2023,” the group wrote.

At an informal event held by Google alumni group Xoogler in January, more than 50 laid-off workers gathered for mutual comfort and to seek answers. Kushagra Shrivastava, one of the organizers, recalled to CNBC the story of a mother who spoke up at the event to say she “was laid off while trying to care for a three-month old, and that was pretty tough to hear.”

It’s not just new mothers and those who are expecting soon who find themselves in a bind. The email to management also mentions the challenges faced by pregnant women who hadn’t yet formally requested a leave of absence and as a result, “will have an even longer road to securing new roles given the points they’re at in their pregnancies.”

At a new employer, those women would have to wait a year for the benefits from the Family and Medical Leave Act to kick in, “rendering it impossible for expectant and new mothers to leverage the FMLA they paid for to the detriment of their health and their baby’s wellbeing,” the group said. “Parental and medical leaves present an extraordinary burden on laid off Googlers’ ability to seek immediate new employment.”

The group’s letter pointed to companies like Amazon, which have said they would pay out the remainder of leave time in addition to severance packages.

Employees who tried to communicate with Google about the matter said they’d lost access to the internal system and could only fill out a form on a separate short-term portal. Some said they received responses a week after their inquiry, and each said they got what appeared to be an automated response, reiterating their employment end date or directing them to reapply for another position.

In an email to CNBC, the group of laid-off workers said Pichai was showing much greater concern for the company’s effort to keep apace in the battle for artificial intelligence supremacy than it was for taking care of longtime staffers who were in need of help.

“When Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced layoffs, he mentioned the company’s commitment to AI three times, but never once mentioned Google’s commitment to accessibility,” the group wrote. “This matters deeply because accessibility is part of the company’s actual mission. This clearly calls for a re-centering of priorities. It’s unsurprising that through a bungled demo just days after laying us off, Google showed they’re indeed not leading the way in AI. However, the good news is that an incredible opportunity remains to be an accessibility leader in the treatment of laid off workers.”

Quality time with baby

The group also reminded Google leadership about the significance of parental benefits and the company’s intention when it updated its plan. In particular, it said parents should have quality time their newborns without the stress of having to think about work and rush back to the office.

“Google formed their parental benefits with this in mind, emphasizing the need for parents to have time off to recover and bond with their new babies,” the email to execs said.

Some said they’re hopeful this issue is just an oversight and executives will take corrective action because the company promised them a certain amount of fully paid time off.

“Granting a payout of full remaining leave days for scheduled and upcoming leaves would be notably in line with Google’s current policy of payment for accumulated employee vacation time (PTO) in this round of layoffs,” the letter said.

The group referenced Google’s original core value, “Don’t be evil,” in asking for leadership to respond promptly.

“We invite the C-Suite to iterate with us like Googlers do,” the laid-off workers wrote to CNBC. “To come up with something more accessible and in line with the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion workplace commitments the company touts.”

WATCH: Clockwise Capital’s James Cakmak on Alphabet lay offs

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