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
Microsoft Bing now uses OpenAI’s DALL-E A.I. to turn text into images
OpenAI displayed on screen with Microsoft Bing double photo exposure on mobile, seen in this photo illustration.
Nurphoto | Nurphoto | Getty Images
Microsoft on Tuesday added a new artificial intelligence-powered capability to its search slate: AI-generated visuals.
The new tool, powered by OpenAI’s DALL-E, will allow users to generate images using their own words, such as asking for a picture of “an astronaut walking through a galaxy of sunflowers,” the company explained in a press release.
The feature, called “Bing Image Creator,” will be available to Bing and Microsoft Edge users in preview. It will first roll out in the search engine’s “Creative Mode.” Eventually, it’ll become fully integrated into the Bing chat experience, the company added.
On Microsoft Edge, the image generator will become available in the browser’s search bar.
Microsoft has bolstered its AI-assisted search functions in recent months, first announcing AI-powered updates to Bing and Edge in early February.
Last week, the tech giant also announced it would add its generative AI technology to some of its most popular business apps, including Word, PowerPoint and Excel.
Excitement around the promise of generative AI has been driven in large part by the runaway success of ChatGPT, which was released by Microsoft-backed OpenAI in November.
As Microsoft’s new capabilities became available to users, some beta testers identified issues, including threats, unhelpful advice and other glitches.
Microsoft says it’s taken steps to curb the misuse of Bing Image Creator by working with OpenAI to develop safety measures for the public.
These safety measures include controls “that aim to limit the generation of harmful or unsafe images,” plus a modified Bing icon that will be added to the bottom left corner of images, with the goal of clarifying the images were created using AI, Microsoft said.
Microsoft’s tiered approach to Bing Image Creator’s rollout is also inspired by the iterative approach the company attempted with past releases.
“People used it in some ways we expected and others we didn’t,” Microsoft said of Bing’s new capabilities. “In this spirit of learning and continuing to build new capabilities responsibly, we’re rolling out Bing Image Creator in a phased approach by flighting with a set of preview users before expanding more broadly.”
Google CEO tells employees that 80,000 of them helped test Bard A.I., warns ‘things will go wrong’
Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai gestures during a session at the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, on January 22, 2020.
Fabrice COFFRINI | AFP | Getty Images
Google and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai told employees that the success of its newly launched Bard A.I. program now hinges on public testing.
“As more people start to use Bard and test its capabilities, they’ll surprise us. Things will go wrong,” Pichai wrote in an internal email to employees Tuesday viewed by CNBC. “But the user feedback is critical to improving the product and the underlying technology.”
The message to employees comes as Google launched Bard as “an experiment” Tuesday morning, after months of anticipation. The product, which is built on Google’s LaMDA, or Language Model for Dialogue Applications, can offer chatty responses to complicated or open-ended questions, such as “give me ideas on how to introduce my daughter to fly fishing.”
Alphabet shares were up almost 4% in mid-day trading following the announcement.
In many disclaimers in the product, the company warns that Bard may make mistakes or “give inaccurate or inappropriate responses.”
The latest internal messaging comes as the company tries to keep apace with the quickly evolving advancements in generative AI technology over the last several months — especially Microsoft-backed OpenAI and its ChatGPT technology.
Employees and investors criticized Google after Bard’s initial announcement in January, which appeared rushed to compete with Microsoft’s just-announced Bing integration of ChatGPT. In a recent all-hands meeting, employees’ top-rated questions included confusion around the purpose of Bard. At that meeting, executives defended Bard as an experiment and tried to make distinctions between the chatbot and its core search product.
Pichai’s Tuesday email also said 80,000 Google employees contributed to testing Bard, responding to Pichai’s all-hands-on-deck call to action last month, which included a plea for workers to re-write the chatbot’s bad answers.
Pichai’s Tuesday note also said the company is trying to test responsibly and invited 10,000 trusted testers “from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives.”
Pichai also said employees “should be proud of this work and the years of tech breakthroughs that led us here, including our 2017 Transformer research and foundational models such as PalM and BERT.” He added: “Even after all this progress, we’re still in the early stages of a long Al journey.”
“For now, I’m excited to see how Bard sparks more creativity and curiosity in the people who use it,” he said, adding he looks forward to sharing “the breadth of our progress in AI” at Google’s annual developer conference in May.
Here’s the full memo:
Last week was an important week in Al with our announcements around Cloud, Developer, and Workspace. There’s even more to come this week as we begin to expand access to Bard, which we first announced in February.
Starting today, people in the US and the UK can sign up at bard.google.com. This is just a first step, and we’ll continue to roll it out to more countries and languages over time.
I’m grateful to the Bard team who has probably spent more time with Bard than anything or anyone else over the past few weeks. Also hugely appreciative of the 80,000 Googlers who have helped test it in the company-wide dogfood. We should be proud of this work and the years of tech breakthroughs that led us here, including our 2017 Transformer research and foundational models such as PalM and BERT.
Even after all this progress, we’re still in the early stages of a long Al journey. As more people start to use Bard and test its capabilities, they’ll surprise us. Things will go wrong. But the user feedback is critical to improving the product and the underlying technology.
We’ve taken a responsible approach to development, including inviting 10,000 trusted testers from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives, and we’ll continue to welcome all the feedback that’s about to come our way. We will learn from it and keep iterating and improving.
For now, I’m excited to see how Bard sparks more creativity and curiosity in the people who use it. And I look forward to sharing the full breadth of our progress in Al to help people, businesses and communities as we approach I/O in May.
TikTok CEO appeals to U.S. users ahead of House testimony
Shou Zi Chew, chief executive officer of TikTok Inc., speaks during the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Singapore, on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022.
Bryan van der Beek | Bloomberg | Getty Images
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew appealed directly to the app’s users ahead of what’s expected to be a heated grilling in the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee this week, in a video posted to the platform Tuesday.
Filming from Washington, D.C., Chew emphasized the large scale of TikTok users, small and medium-sized businesses and its own employees based in the U.S. that rely on the company. The message may preview his appeal to lawmakers Thursday, where he will be faced with questions about the ability of its Chinese parent company ByteDance, and the Chinese government, to access U.S. user information collected by the app.
TikTok says it has worked to create a risk mitigation plan to ensure that U.S. data doesn’t get into the hands of a foreign adversary through its app. The company has said U.S. user data is already stored outside of China.
But many lawmakers and intelligence officials seem to remain unconvinced that the information can be safe while TikTok is owned by a Chinese company. TikTok said last week that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., which is reviewing risks related to the app, is pushing for ByteDance to sell its stake or face a ban.
Chew disclosed in the video that TikTok has more than 150 million monthly active users, or MAUs, in the U.S., representing massive growth from August 2020, when it said for the first time that it has about 100 million MAUs in the country. That number includes 5 million businesses that use the app to reach their customers, with most of those being small or medium-sized businesses. He also said TikTok has 7,000 U.S.-based employees.
“This comes at a pivotal moment for us,” Chew said, referencing lawmakers’ threats of a TikTok ban. “This could take TikTok away from all 150 million of you.”
Chew then appealed to users directly to share in the comments what they want their representatives to know about why they love TikTok.
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