PAGING BEZOS

How the biggest names in tech stack up on backup childcare benefits

Working parents with childcare emergencies may not be smiling.
Working parents with childcare emergencies may not be smiling.
Image: REUTERS/Michaela Rehle
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Large tech companies like Apple or Google are widely perceived as being great places to work. They offer competitive salaries and perks like beer bashes and on-site haircuts. But for many employees, especially once they have children, the most valuable benefits are those that help them juggle the demands of a full-time career with the needs of their family—and that includes support on days when childcare plans inevitably fall through.

Childcare is at the center of a controversy that erupted last week at Amazon, where a group of 1,800 employees calling themselves the “Momazonians” asked CEO Jeff Bezos to provide them with backup daycare benefits. According to Bloomberg (paywall), the group argued that “a lack of day care support can derail the careers of talented women who otherwise might be promoted to more senior jobs.”

Amazon does offer competitive maternity leave and parental benefits other than backup daycare. For instance, paid leave can be shared with a partner who doesn’t get paid leave from their own employer, and parents can slowly ramp up their return to the office to make the transition easier. (Notably, these and other perks are offered to all of the company’s full-time US workers, regardless of whether they are salaried or hourly. “There are no tiers, and no employee is more important than another,” a spokesperson notes, in a not-so-subtle reference to a criticism of large employers that distinguish between their corporate and hourly staff.) Nevertheless, for working parents at Amazon, the lack of backup daycare is a glaring omission.

Backup daycare is not just a lifesaver for working parents; it’s also a smart investment for the companies that employ them. The nonprofit research group Child Care Aware estimates that breakdowns in childcare arrangements cost US companies $4 billion annually in absenteeism, tardiness, and reduced workforce productivity. Its latest survey found that every six months, 45% of working parents experienced childcare snafus that led to 4.3 days of missed work. Providing backup care can help companies recruit the best workers, since millennials routinely cite family-friendly benefits as influencing their decisions to take or leave a job. And finally, back-up childcare can contribute to lessening the workforce gender gap, given that a lack of childcare is a major reason (paywall) why women leave the workplace.

Despite all this upside, only 9% of US employers with 1,000 workers or more offer backup or emergency childcare benefits, according to the 2017 National Survey of Employers (pdf).

We were curious how many of Amazon’s biggest competitors in the job market would be Mamazonian-approved, so we contacted several of the largest tech firms in the US to find out. Quartz at Work confirmed that Salesforce, Intel, and Netflix all offer cover 10 days of backup care per year. Among the “Big Five” tech companies (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft), Amazon, the second-largest private employer in the US, is the only one that doesn’t.

Here’s a look at the backup care coverage offered by the other four big tech firms:

Microsoft

Microsoft works with Bright Horizons, the largest employer-sponsored childcare provider in the US, to offer its US employees 150 hours of subsidized back-up childcare and elder care per year (some companies put these two services in the same benefits bucket), an increase from the 100 hours it has been offering for more than 10 years, and substantially more than its key competitors. The company pays for the majority of the cost, though parents pay “a nominal hourly fee,” a company spokesperson said.

Google

Since 2011, Google has partnered with family care provider Care.com to provide its employees in the US, UK, Ireland, Canada, Singapore, Japan, and Australia 10 subsidized days of either in-center or in-home backup childcare per calendar year.  Employees pay a small fee for the subsidized days and can choose to pay the full price of the service if they need it for more than 10 days.

Facebook

Facebook offers each family it employs 10 days of fully-subsidized back-up, in-home, or in-center childcare or elder care per calendar year. The company also offers an extra five days of backup care for parents with newborn children in their first year of life.

Apple

Apple employees are eligible for 10 days of backup child and/or elder care per year, which they can access through Bright Horizons.

But is it enough?

Though these companies offer backup childcare and have comparatively generous policies regarding benefits like parental leave, fertility treatments, and maternity support, some employees have complained about unhealthy environments for working mothers and a lack of flexibility for working parents returning from leave.

And even the most generous family policies pale in comparison to countries with federally mandated paid time-off policies or high-quality universal childcare, like the UK and Canada. That’s why it’s important that debates about top companies providing benefits like backup childcare be part of a larger conversation about the quality and affordability of childcare options available to everyone.