Google nixes paying out remainder of maternity and medical leave for laid-off employees
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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
Lyft CEO and president to step down, former Amazon exec David Risher named as replacement
David Risher, a former retail executive at Amazon, will be CEO of the ridesharing company beginning April 17, when Green will step aside to serve as chair of the board. Zimmer will transition out of his role on June 30 to serve as vice chair of the Lyft board. Lyft’s current chairman Sean Aggarwal will step down from his post but will remain on the board, the company said
Lyft shares rose around 5% after hours on the news.
Green and Zimmer founded Lyft in 2012 and took the company public in 2019. Lyft shares have fallen more than 70% in the last year.
“I am honored to step into the CEO role at such an important moment in the company’s history, and am prepared to take this business to new levels of success,” Risher said in a statement.
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Risher joined Amazon in 1997 as its first vice president of product and store development. He was a top lieutenant of Amazon founder and executive chairman Jeff Bezos, and went on to serve as senior vice president of marketing and merchandising before exiting the company in 2002. Risher has been on Lyft’s board since 2021.
— CNBC’s Annie Palmer, Laura Batchelor and Deirdre Bosa contributed to this report.
Amazon seller consultant admits to bribing employees to help clients; will plead guilty
Ephraim “Ed” Rosenberg wrote in a LinkedIn post that he will plead guilty in federal court to a criminal charge, stemming from a 2020 indictment that charged six people with conspiring to give sellers an unfair competitive advantage on Amazon’s third-party marketplace. Four of the defendants have already pleaded guilty, including one former Amazon employee who was sentenced last year to 10 months in prison.
Rosenberg, who’s based in Brooklyn, is a well-known figure in the world of Amazon third-party sellers. He runs a consultancy business that advises entrepreneurs on how to sell products on the online marketplace, and navigate unforeseen issues with their Amazon account. Rosenberg’s Facebook group for sellers, ASGTG, has over 68,000 members, and he hosts a popular conference for sellers each year.
“For a time, some years ago, I began to obtain and use Amazon’s internal annotations — Amazon’s private property — to learn the reasons for sellers’ suspensions, in order to assist them in getting reinstated, if possible,” wrote Rosenberg, who is due to appear in U.S. District Court in Seattle on March 30, for a change of plea hearing, according to court records. “On some occasions, I paid bribes, directly and indirectly, to Amazon employees to obtain annotations and reinstate suspended accounts. These actions were against the law.”
As recently as last month, in LinkedIn messages to CNBC, Rosenberg denied prosecutors’ allegations, calling the case a “conspiracy” and claiming he was framed. On Monday, Rosenberg said he “regrets” his involvement in the bribery scheme.
“In the course of this case, I have made some public statements about this prosecution and the indictment,” Rosenberg said. “Those statements are not accurate and I disavow those statements. This statement I am making now is accurate and truthful and I will continue to stand by it.”
Since at least 2017, prosecutors allege Rosenberg and other consultants allegedly bribed Amazon employees to leak information about the company’s search and ranking algorithms and to share confidential data on their competition in the marketplace. In all, the individuals allegedly paid $100,000 worth of bribes to employees and reaped more than $100 million in competitive benefits, the DOJ said.
In 2018, Amazon fired four employees in India who were allegedly connected to the bribery scheme.
Previously unsealed court documents said Rosenberg allegedly sent a “veiled threat” to an Amazon employee at the company’s Seattle headquarters as part of the bribery scheme, Bloomberg reported. The documents also detailed defendants’ elaborate efforts to dodge detection by authorities, including allegedly stuffing a llama-shaped ottoman with cash believed to be bribes, according to Bloomberg.
Rosenberg is part of what’s become a sizable industry in helping sellers navigate the complexities and chaos of the Amazon marketplace, where some 2 million sellers are responsible for more than half of the goods sold on the site. Amazon launched its online marketplace in 2000, allowing everyone from established brands to mom-and-pop shops to sell products.
While the marketplace has helped Amazon haul in tens of billions of dollars in sales, it’s also become a notorious host to counterfeit, unsafe and expired goods. Behind the scenes, scammers have for years resorted to illicit tactics to squash competitors, artificially boost their listings or bypass Amazon’s marketplace rules.
Amazon has said it invests hundreds of millions of dollars per year to ensure products are safe and compliant. The providing of internal data to sellers by employees violates Amazon’s seller policies and code of conduct.
Rosenberg said attempts to bribe Amazon employees are “wrong and criminal.”
“No one should pay bribes to Amazon employees to provide private Amazon information,” Rosenberg wrote on Monday. “If it is apparent that internal information has been illegally leaked, no one should use it. Nor should anyone pay any Amazon employees for any other special favors regarding a seller’s account.”
An attorney for Rosenberg declined to comment.
An Amazon spokesperson told CNBC in a statement that it has systems in place to detect suspicious behavior and teams that work to stop prohibited activity on the marketplace.
“Amazon is grateful to have worked with federal authorities in their thorough pursuit of this case,” the spokesperson said. “There is no place for fraud at Amazon, and we will continue to hold bad actors accountable.”
Binance and founder Changpeng Zhao violated compliance rules to attract U.S. users, CFTC alleges
The filing has the potential to upend the exchange’s operations and is potentially just the first salvo in a regulatory crackdown on the world’s largest crypto exchange. Beyond disgorgement and any monetary costs, the CFTC filing asked the court to impose further relief, including trading and registration bans.
The regulator alleged that Binance, Zhao, and Lim violated eight core provisions of the Commodity Exchange Act, including laws that require controls “designed to prevent and detect money laundering and terrorism financing.”
Just days prior to the CFTC filing, CNBC reported on how Binance employees worked to subvert the exchange’s compliance controls in China, using some of the same techniques that the CFTC alleges Binance to solicit U.S. users.
Zhao and Lim allegedly “actively cultivated lucrative and commercially important ‘VIP’ customers, including institutional customers, located in the United States,” the complaint said.
“Today’s enforcement action demonstrates that there is no location, or claimed lack of location, that will prevent the CFTC from protecting American investors. I have been clear that the CFTC will continue to use all of its authority to find and stop misconduct in the volatile and risky digital asset market,” CFTC chair Rostin Benham said in a statement.
Binance and Zhao took steps to purposefully obscure where the exchange’s subsidiaries were located, the regulator said. This was part of a larger strategy that Zhao said was an effort to “keep countries clean,” the regulator alleged in the filing.
A key part of Binance’s alleged effort to generate fees and solicit U.S. users was the exchange’s VIP program, for high net worth individuals, the CFTC filing said.
“Binance is aware of its VIPs’ identities and geographic locations because Binance monitors its sources of transaction volume and fee-based revenue as a matter of course in conducting its operations,” the CFTC complaint alleges.
Binance’s VIPs were offered special privileges when law enforcement agencies pursued them or froze their assets, the CFTC alleged, claiming Binance gave VIPs a heads up or suggested they take their assets off the platform.
“Do not directly tell the user to run,” Binance instructed its VIP team, the filing alleged. “If the user is a big trader, or a smart one, he/she will get the hint.”
CNBC previously reported on how Binance’s customer service and VIP representatives counseled users in mainland China on how to evade Binance’s compliance systems. The use of virtual private networks and alternative non-state documents was advised by some volunteers and employees to mainland Chinese traders. The CFTC filing alleges that Binance engaged in similar activity for its U.S. users.
“But as best we can we try to ask our users to use VPN or ask them to provide (if there are an entity) non-US documents. On the surface we cannot be seen to have US users but in reality we should get them through other creative means,” Lim told a Binance employee in 2020 according to the filing.
Lim allegedly advised against outright fraud but encouraged “creative means” to sidestep regulations. Binance “can encourage them to be a non kyc account,” Lim. KYC stands for know-your-customer, a set of principles that guide anti-money laundering programs for financial institutions and are a key part of fighting terrorist and illicit financing.
“We have made significant investments over the past two years to ensure we do not have US users active on our platform,” a Binance spokesperson said in a statement, calling the complaint “unexpected and disappointing.”
Zhao’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment. But, Zhao posted a tweet that said “4” in an apparent response to the CFTC filing.
The number four is a call to Binance’s devoted international userbase to dismiss negative publicity about the exchange as “fake news.”
“The best path forward is to protect our users and to collaborate with regulators to develop a clear, thoughtful regulatory regime,” the Binance statement continued.
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