When I saw the Mother Jones headline “Can Facebook and Reddit Fix America’s Maternity Leave Problem?” I wondered: How can technology companies help Americans who don’t work for them get paid parental leave, which is available in nearly every other country? It turns out, they can’t—the article is about the excellent paid leave policies Google, Microsoft, Pinterest, Reddit, Yahoo, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter have and how they might influence other companies competing for similar employees but not about how they will force change outside of the tech bubble. Only the government can do that.
I reached out to press representatives from all eight companies, asking whether their cleaning staffs get access to the benefits publicized by Mother Jones. I only got responses from Microsoft and Reddit. A Microsoft spokesperson did not address the company’s cleaning staff specifically, emailing: “All new parents at Microsoft are eligible for parental leave which includes 12 weeks of leave – four paid at 100 percent of base pay, plus an additional eight weeks off unpaid. In addition, all new birth mothers are eligible for maternity leave which adds an additional eight weeks of paid leave to the parental leave offered, totaling 20 weeks off.”
Reddit, on the other hand, was completely transparent. Reddit CEO Yishan Wong responded to my query, telling me that his company doesn’t provide parental leave to their cleaning staff:
We are legally prevented from doing that, because our office is subleased from another entity who in turn contracts with another company to provide these services as part of the lease. As a small company we have no negotiation leverage in this area. :-( If we’re ever a large company with direct control over these services, we would be able to do this.
In fact, with 25 employees, Reddit is the only one of the tech companies mentioned that doesn’t have to provide any family leave for any of its workers at all. (You are only federally required to give your employees 12 weeks of unpaid FMLA leave if you have 50 or more employees.) So Reddit gets extra credit for their ultragenerous leave package: 17 weeks for new moms and dads.
What Reddit’s generous policy and the Mother Jones piece really show are the gaping holes in coverage for the rest of the country, particularly for those workers who aren’t highly educated and don’t have irreplaceable levels of tech expertise. As the Mother Jones article points out, only 11 percent of Americans get any paid parental leave at all, and those programs are becoming scarcer. We need federal laws that let people who aren’t already privileged have children without fear of going broke because their jobs aren’t protected.