My Progressive Benefits Dream for Mozilla

Recently I was approached by a co-worker to add my name to a petition about restoring the parental leave for Mozilla’s US employees.  At some point between 2009 and 2012 our leave plan changed without there being (to my knowledge) any formal announcement, transparency around the decision, or discussion of the impending change with employees.

As I was crafting my response to the request I thought this would be a good blog post since it states quite clearly what I hope Mozilla could strive for as a company with regards to how it provides benefits to employees.

Thanks for including me in this thread.  I’ve given it some thought and I’m seeing two very distinct issues here:

1) That Mozilla cut a policy without explanation, it looks to be by accident, and I agree completely that the old policy should be restored until a new one is put in effect with intention (and hopefully transparency)

2) That Mozilla needs a competitive and progressive leave policy going forward – this is something I am happy to help champion with adjustment to the current parent-focused language

I have recently been working on improving our benefits from another angle – trying to get our benefits to explicitly cover transgender surgeries – and I see the issue of being able to take paid leave as being very helpful to that ask.  Right off the bat, I wouldn’t want to support having gender-distinct parental leave durations, as this creates a problem for families who do not follow heterosexual patterns (eg: a man or men adopting a child gets less leave than a man/woman or woman/woman or even a single woman).  However, I would encourage us to think bigger and propose that paid leave should be a benefit available not only to parents.

If we really want to support diversity, I recommend we ask for (and get a lot of people on board with) a leave benefit that can be used to care for an elder, undergo surgery, adopt/birth/foster a child, write a book, pursue education, renovate a home, or anything that requires undivided focus away from work and enriches your life.  Imagine if your benefits at Mozilla allowed you 8 weeks (happy to shoot for more) of paid leave and the reason was up to your discretion.  What a measure of excellence we could have above current plans offered by other companies by recognizing a wide range of life-altering events that demand our attention.

Pushing our company to be more appealing to, and welcoming of, women and other marginalized groups is incredibly important to me and I want to see us grow our benefits and company culture in ways that encompasses more diversity. We should appeal not only to women for whom maternity leave is a priority, but also to women whose lives follow other paths, and show that Mozilla cares about the overall health and growth of all their employees with flexible plans that benefit the widest possible groupings of people.

For the short term I’m happy to put my name on this request to reinstate the plan that was never publicly revoked and call out the poor process there (lack of transparency and no announcement of potential change, no input from employees) but I also appeal to you and to others who participate in this request to consider joining forces with me (and some others who put in the request for transgender surgery) to draft a request for 2014 to create a Personal Leave policy and provide a benefit that enhances the well-being of all employees at Mozilla.

That’s the long and short of it.  I want us to be willing to discuss and consider our benefits in ways that do not single out certain choices or circumstances over others.  It may be how 3rd party brokers and the benefit providing companies create markets for their wares (reminds me of pink/blue toy marketing) but if we want to really have an ‘enviable’ culture and we truly value diversity in our recruiting efforts we should think outside of the boxes that have been created for us by the profit-driven insurance sector.

11 comments

  1. Robert O'Callahan

    Is your proposal different in any way from simply increasing PTO from 4 weeks (in NZ at least) to 8 weeks for everyone? (Or would it be 12?)

    If it isn’t, are you saying that giving more PTO to everyone facilitates diversity? Maybe you could elaborate on why that is, since it’s not obvious to me.

  2. Tim Chevalier

    Lukas, I totally agree with this. As someone who is unlikely to be having kids anytime soon, I would have appreciated extra leave last year when I had to have surgery several times and used up all my PTO on that. Parents shouldn’t have to give up vacation time to care for a new baby or adopted child, but neither should people with medical issues that need to be dealt with; or people in any of the other categories you mentioned.

    You pointed out correctly “this creates a problem for families who do not follow heterosexual patterns”; language that gives different amounts of time to mothers and fathers is also problematic for trans people, even heterosexual trans people. Hypothetically, if I were to become a gestational father, it doesn’t seem quite right that I would be given the same amount of leave time as a male parent who wasn’t going through pregnancy and birth; but I certainly wouldn’t be the child’s mother, either, and thus (I presume) wouldn’t qualify for maternity leave.

  3. Jenny Worley

    I love this post because it illustrates the ways in which women’s issues are often equated with mothers’ issues when it comes to workplace policy. It also makes visible the way in which a policy that is marked as progressive and feminist (maternity leave) can unintentionally promote a conservative view of women’s role by accommodating a single, socially sanctioned role, but ignoring the demands presented by other life paths women might take. I love that you envision a leave policy that respects a range of situations and life experiences as worthy of support.

  4. Lukas

    I suppose it wouldn’t be so different from increasing PTO – I admire companies like Netflix who have unlimited PTO for their employees and I think Mozilla could handle that same freedom without too much abuse. That’s one of my favourite parts of working at Mozilla after leaving the hourly wage world, I see us treated as adults who get our work done and not as cogs whose hours need to be tracked. I realize this causes problems with an ill-fitting hire (someone who is not a self-starter or has challenges finding their drive on projects) but IMO it’s worth the risk.

  5. Lukas

    Al, as an employee you have access to the same internal documents that I do so I trust you can find out this information – I am intentionally not speaking about details that are not on public pages and rather addressing a broader point here.

  6. Lukas

    Roc – as to your other question, yes PTO and/or leave benefits do relate to diversity efforts as people who have different needs outside of work factor them in when considering applying. A company that appears to understand the need for paid leave to deal with some of life’s big events (which includes, but is in no way limited to the birth of a child) is a company that will also appear to value its employees more than one that doesn’t do this.

    The assumption that everyone uses PTO for vacation is leaving out the realities of people who use those days for recovering from surgery, caring for elders, people who live with disabilities and others reasons too plentiful to list. The ability to do a job well and meet deliverables is what we’re looking for in our co-workers and I think there are people out there who can do those things but who might need more of a paid leave cushion than is currently offered.

  7. njn

    From what I’ve heard about Netflix, it’s a dog-eat-dog kind of workplace — e.g.g they explicitly aim to replace the least-effective 25% of staff every year(!) — and the consequence of their “unlimited vacation” policy is that, in practice, lots of people take no vacation. Unintended (or not?) consequences and all that…

  8. Robert O'Callahan

    Unlimited PTO is an intriguing idea :-).

    I think it would me uncomfortable as a manager though. If an employee requests a chunk of PTO for a purpose which seems dubious, and I think they might be trying to take unfair advantage of the system, then I’d be forced to make a very difficult decision. I would hate to be seen to be judging the validity of someone’s choices. It would be nice if we could trust our employees to never take unfair advantage but honestly we can’t, not all of them.

  9. Mike Shaver

    FWIW, when I was managing at Mozilla, I never turned down a PTO request based on someone’s balance, and I often encouraged people to take what they needed regardless of their balance. If someone is working like most Mozilla engineers did, there’s lots of time-in-lieu room, and I used my discretion liberally.

    That’s actually how I’ve always managed, and while there are rare cases where I’ve felt I needed to watch the numbers — often with new hires, definitely if someone is on a PIP — in the large people can “cost the company” way more just by phoning it in for a week than they can by taking an extra day or two off.

  10. Lukas

    @njn – that’s a shame about their workplace culture although I do not see a direct correlation to the vacation policy from the replacing people but also I am now curious about people *not* taking vacations (or much of it) when it’s “unlimited” vs. having allotted time. Someone needs to do some science on that one :)

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