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“I Had a Baby and Cancer When I Worked at Amazon” (medium.com/jcheiffetz)
458 points by tchalla on Aug 26, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 297 comments

This story doesn't surprise me at all. My 7 month pregnant wife is currently going through the exact same experience at Google. As soon as she notified her manager of her pregnancy, a week later they are trying to get rid of her. Made her pick between PIP or 2 months severance. Before she could make her decision, luckily, her doctor put her on leave because of a higher risk pregnancy (twins), she was entitled to short term disability but the company that handles Googles disability is a complete mess to deal with. It seems like make it super difficult to make use of these 'perks' so you just give up and don't bother. Anyway, long story short its the same everywhere. Im sure Larry and Jeff had good intentions when they started their companies but now that it's in the hands of middle management it's no different than any other big corp.

"I'm sure Larry and Jeff had good intentions when they started their companies but now that it's in the hands of middle management it's no different than any other big corp."

One of the weird things is 'success metrics telephone tag.' Basically it works like this; Boss creates a function and defines what it means to be successful. Hires a group to do that function. The group grows and its bifurcated into sub-groups which each have a part of the problem, and each has their own "success metric" which should, in theory, contribute up to the top level metric. However, there are no 'peer ranking' of the metrics, so if you have one group that is keeping your HR costs under control (success metric is 'cost per employee') and you have another group with is keeping your employee's happy (success metric is 'employee retention') and a third group which is keeping employees productive (success metric 'revenue per employee'), they all sum up, in theory to success metric 'keeping people happy and productive at the lowest possible cost'.

Now you find an employee who discloses a condition which will both cost the company money (benefit payout), and reduce productivity (external issues, loss of focus at work) and suddenly two parts of the HR group are having their success metric impacted by this event. You can reduce that to only one group making the person quit. So from the top level "we're hitting two of our three metrics" is a better report to send up then "we're hitting one of our three metrics".

A fix for this is an suitably enlightened senior manager providing scale options, so "retain good employee" gets a weight of '6' and 'save money' 2, and 'productivity' 3. Now when you score it retaining them gets you 6/11 but getting them to quit only gets you 5/11. Retaining your best employees becomes the managed-to goal.

Understanding how a company approaches those problems will say a lot about the quality of its management and the maturity of its processes.

"I'm sure Larry and Jeff had good intentions when they started their companies but now that it's in the hands of middle management it's no different than any other big corp."

In russian, we have a common saying "царь-батюшка хороший - это бояре у него плохие". Loosely translated in english as "The King is kind, it's his the nobles that are bad." It is meant to be used as sarcasm.

Perhaps it is obvious, but in case it isn't: the meaning is that the person in charge of things is ultimately responsible and sets the tone for the rest of the organization, either by action or inaction.

I completely agree, there is a similar saying which says something like "A vain king is a deaf king." Which observes that people who look only for good news or flattery will not hear bad news or problems.

That is why these sorts of things are a good test of management maturity. If problems like this get reflected up to the person in charge (and ultimately responsible), and nothing happens, then it is on them. If they go up and the metrics change so they can't happen in the future, then its a company learning from its mistakes. If you witness the full cycle (a problem emerges, the folks who are responsible are notified, they take some action, the problem persists, and there is no new update) then you can confidently choose to leave knowing that the people at the top want it to be that way, if on the other hand you see problems get fixed as they arise, then you can confidently choose to stay, knowing that bad situations are not intentional and will be fixed.

Wow! In Kannada, a South Indian language, we have the saying, "devaru vara kotru poojari vara kodlilla." Translation: "even though the god granted your wishes, the priest didn't pass it on." It alludes to the stereotypical 'middle-manager' incompetence/imperfections of the priest. Always interesting to find universal themes in geographically disparate cultures!

That's all well and good, but I'm sure many of these "decisions" are of dubious legality and really morally reprehensible. When hearing that an employee has a pregnancy, an expectant child, or an illness, the answer should never be to consider termination...

    The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) forbids discrimination based on pregnancy 
    when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, 
    job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, 
    such as leave and health insurance, 
    and any other term or condition of employment.
Completely illegal.

And, sadly, completely irrelevant. Any organization as large as Google can, and does, construct nearly litigation proof ways to eliminate folks they don't want working for them. They are particularly careful around people who might fall under a protected group, but if you read the original comment it was "PIP or quit". PIP, short of Performance Improvement Plan, is a document between you manager and you which describes what you must do to maintain your job. It can be simple (like come to work reliably every work day for 180 days) it can be complex (enable the delivery of complex project X through co-ordination with people involved in the project), and if you are on your way out, it is unlikely you will satisfactorily meet the required remediation.

So good in theory, not really useful in practice. Sometimes a useful tool for enhancing your severance package. And you have to think about fighting to stay employed at a company that is kicking you to the curb because you're pregnant. What else might they do? It does push people closer to unionizing though, and that is becoming a bigger threat for tech companies than it was due to shennanigans like this.

That sort of assignment still falls under the broad umbrella of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (job assignments and other conditions of employment). As others have said, no one sane person wants to jump into a legal fight, but that does not mean that any sort of treatment like this is not expressly illegal.

An organization as large as Google... can violate as many laws as they wish to. That does not mean that they should not suffer gravely for it.

Congrats on your twins!

I work for Google, and when my wife had twins last October, my team was extremely supportive when I took six weeks of paternity leave - they even threw me a little party and chipped in for an Amazon gift card for diapers etc. It was an entirely positive experience. A female coworker had a baby a week earlier and she was out from mid-September to early February. And she and I both applied for promotion that September, with the full support of our manager and her manager. I've since seen friends at Google have kids and take leave with absolutely no issues.

It's awful that your wife had this experience - she should escalate it to her boss's boss. I don't think it's standard for Google.

As another Googler, agreed, that experience is not standard at all. A large number of my coworkers have children, are having children, etc all who are fully supported by the team and the org.

Nothing is perfect for sure, but the full intent of the entire org is to support googlers 2.0. There are of course naughty parts and peopleops exists to help with that.

Agreed. Fellow Googler here, please escalate this.

Wouldn't there be a pretty direct correlation between an attempted punishment and the pregnancy announcement? Like if there were no previous problems, isn't this pretty clear discrimination?

This is why the PIP exists - it's "documentation" and "proof" the the employee is an underperformer. PIPs provide legal cover for firings that would otherwise not pass cursory examination.

[edit] The PIP may have started out as a good faith effort to improve underperformers, but at this point I see them used more frequently as political and legal tools than honest attempts at "salvaging" poor employees.

That's exactly what the pip has turned into, it's justification and legal air cover for a decision you've already made.

Totally, but couldn't you point back to telling your boss that you're pregnant and be like "I literally told you a few weeks ago that I'm pregnant and now you're putting me on a PIP, this is not a coincidence"

Yeah, they're not going to have a leg to stand on if this ever made it to a lawsuit - a PIP on someone after they announced their pregnancy is pretty lulzy.

But it's an intimidation tactic like any other - your options here are either leave quietly (like the author of the original post), or be fired unceremoniously as a documented poor-performer and have that hanging over your career, and maybe sue the company for wrongful termination.

99% of the time, even when the situation is patently unfair and insanely unjust, people will choose Option A.

Even if you choose Option B and sue the employer, Amazon has a warchest the size of the moon and lawyers on staff best measured in boatloads - so more likely than not you'd be forced to settle for a modest sum and still have the firing on record, and no admission of fault on Amazon's part.

>>or be fired unceremoniously as a documented poor-performer and have that hanging over your career

How would something like a PIP affect one's career? Companies don't share that information, or they expose themselves to serious litigation risk. That's why most places have a policy to only verify an ex-employee's dates of employment and job title if someone calls to ask.

Consider this, though, Amazon has a large need to fill vacancies and the media (even in Seattle) is happy to run stories about worker mistreatment.

I never worry about pointing out the evils of Amazon (despite them making me sign a contract meant to intimidate me into shutting up) because I know if they take me to court I'll have the opportunity to have my say publicly. And that's the last thing they want.

At Amazon, if you get your PIP and you refuse to sign it, I think they will fire you, and then you will be offered a check in order to sign an agreement not to sue them.

So, if you get the PIP it may be more profitable to just refuse to sign it and start looking for another job (with a bigger severance) than waste a couple months at Amazon while looking for another job.

BTW- the reason I got my PIP was that I had a job at AWS and an offer in hand and went to try and transfer.

valid points but to be fair this thread is referring to google not amazon.

Yes, but starting the PIP after there is a documented pregnancy announcement to management isn't going to shield them from liability I suspect.

My first lawyer taught me a very valuable lesson: the important question isn't whether you'll win the suit eventually, it's whether you can afford to go the distance. Doing the PIP after doesn't increase the distance as much as doing it before, but it definitely makes it harder to sue than if they just fired you the day after a positive performance review.

Is it fantasy that the payday would be significant enough that a decent lawyer would take the case on commission? Seems to me that a lawyer who had the resources to go the distance could totally make this an easy and profitable win for a client who's getting on with her life in the meantime.

Amazon's lawyers are probably expensive right? They also have to risk setting precedents and future cases not being so easily intimidated. Seems like they would have a lot to lose letting this go to court, even if they intend to drag it out.

> Amazon's lawyers are probably expensive right? They also have to risk setting precedents and future cases not being so easily intimidated. Seems like they would have a lot to lose letting this go to court, even if they intend to drag it out.

But that's the thing: they don't need to let it go to court, they just have to drag out the pre-trial proceedings for a few years until you've either moved on with your life or forgotten enough of the details. Most cases settle out of court, but before that happens there is due process that a good HR defense attorney can absolutely stretch out for years.

As far as their lawyers, it costs a big company like Amazon very little, since the lawyers are likely on salary. They would probably hire an outside attorney to represent them in person at a trial, but since the vast majority (>95%) of cases settle before they make it that far, their internal HR lawyers would probably handle most of the grunt work of filing paperwork until someone actually needs to show up at the court house.

Also it's probably not as much money as you think; unless it can be proven that the company's actions were malicious and intentional against a protected class, you probably won't see much more than 6 months salary. The problem is in gathering the evidence to prove this and keeping track of it over the course of a few years.

So it is a fantasy then I guess... Seems like there might be an opportunity for a large firm to handle the other side of it in a similar manner by using efficiencies of scale. Becoming the defacto law firm for these cases and managing a large volume for a smaller margin.

But then I guess it's just more lawyers keeping other lawyers employed.

That's pretty much how it works today; though there's not one single massive law firm because employment laws vary by state and city. But lawyers do specialize in this type of case at the city/state level, and it wouldn't surprise me if there is a "standard settlement" scale that says what % of annual salary the employer is willing to pay to make the case go away (I know this exists for auto insurance cases because I used to have a client who was a stereotypical ambulance chaser).

But generally you're right -- when you sue someone, only the lawyers win. At a minimum, a cursory background check would turn up the lawsuit and potentially damage your chances at getting another job. It's the same as with whistleblower cases: you have to ask yourself if the injustice you're trying to correct is so big that it's worth potentially destroying your career (whistleblower laws promise huge rewards for exposing behavior but they can be very difficult to collect on and generally make you unhireable).

That said, if a specific company (like Amazon/Google are rumored to do) routinely does things like this, they could face a class action suit. Class action suits are a company's worst nightmare because they are run by the lawyers -- who have every incentive to be as public as possible about the proceedings. Dragging a company's name though the mud in the media is a good way to get them to settle on your terms, and the former employees aren't at the forefront of the case so there's little downside to it. It actually wouldn't surprise me if we see a class action suit come out of this; this kind of treatment is common enough in the tech industry and there's a lot of money on the table if a law firm can put together a case. But again, in a class action suit the lawyers keep most of the money, so ultimately they're the biggest winners.

Yeah. It increases the cost to sue but I suspect pregnancy -> PIP -> cancer -> terminated insurance -> effective demotion on return should be winnable in a perfect world. They just know no one is going to fight it and they can make it expensive enough its not worth it.

True, I wonder how many other women at Google have had this happen to them-- pregnant then suddenly PIP.

If there's a pattern there, then a clear discrimination case could still be made, I think.

Can someone please define "PIP"? I honestly have no idea what it means.

Performance improvement plan. It's the first step in letting an employee know - supposedly - that their performance is lacking and needs to be improved else they be terminated. But as mentioned, PIPs can be misused for other means.

It's not the first step to letting an employee know there performance is at risk. Or it isn't supposed to be.


Judging by these 6+ years old comments [1], PIP was a path to getting fired for a while.


[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=473232

My partner was discriminated against in a similar way. An employment lawyer told her several things:

(1) it's difficult to prove, and often juries really want bright line discrimination (eg an email saying fire that bitch for getting pregnant); a pattern of discrimination without a smoking gun is a harder sell to a jury

(2) be ready to never work in that industry again, and maybe to never work again

(3) do you really want this to be what you do with the next 2-3 years of your life

She declined to pursue it. Or as the saying goes, "in its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread." One law for the rich, another for the rest of us.

You'd need to prove it though. The official position of Google is probably "it is a performance / restructuring thing and pregnancy is purely accidental coincidence". (Wink-wink). Of course the winks only happen in person they are not written down.

So now someone who has a baby on the way has to pay for a lawyer and fight an uphill and expensive case.

Also, suing your previous employer ends your career. Prospective employers will see you as a troublemaker and no one will hire you after that, even in a different field.

I don't think this is the case at all. In 17 years, I have never seen the company let it get to trial.

Most recent example is Ellen Pao -> CEO Reddit.

But we're not talking about the Ellen Pao's of the world, we're talking about average workers. I've seen firsthand that some employers won't want to touch someone who sued a former employer - for any reason.

It doesn't have to make it to trial, it just has to be searchable. A civil complaint is enough.

Unless you have a recording of your manager coming out and saying, "I'm putting you on the PIP because you got pregnant," you can't do anything, because there's no proof that's why it happened.

Which is fucking bullshit, because everyone with a modicum of logical thinking could see that's exactly why it's happening. But instead of them having to prove that the PIP was justified, you get people having to prove that they're not being fucked over by a bully.

It's really not the same everywhere. I work for a big financial corp. Things aren't perfect, but we do everything in our power to support women on maternity leave, and that kind of behavior would get the manager fired.

> I work for a big financial corp. Things aren't perfect, but we do everything in our power to support women on maternity leave, and that kind of behavior would get the manager fired.

That's great to hear. But one reason bad things happen is that people, especially management, believe in their company's good intentions and policies and don't realize that the reality is much different. The only way to know is to observe what actually occurs. (Of course, I'm speaking generally; I have no idea what happens at your company or what you know.)

A similar situation occurs with health insurance. People trust their insurance and assume it works until they get sick and learn the reality of it.

I've been through this multiple times. We had one employee who has had three kids over the last five years, and each time has taken 3-6 months maternity leave. We have bent over backwards to ensure that she is not denied any opportunities and that we cover for her. She's great, and the last thing we want to do is lose her because she feels she has to make the choice between the company and her family.

what if she wasn't doing great before she went on the first maternity leave and was in fact doing poorly?

In a properly managed company, these are separate things.

But unfortunately in the court of law, I'm guessing it would be a very messy argument.

yes they are. which is the improperly managed company that dealt with them as a single thing?

And this is why people conceal health-related conditions from their employers until they are literally admitted to the hospital.

If this national elections cycle in the U.S. does not include a serious consideration of the typical interactions that people have with their health care systems, I'm moving to Mars. No spacecraft. I will be traveling there on a column of self-righteous fire, with my frustration as the propellant and my fury as the oxidizer. I will breathe a mixture of 80% pure stubbornness and 20% magical libertarian free market gas.

For a small fee, I will attach a tether to Donald Trump before I go, and release him outside of Earth's gravity well. He'll have no trouble surviving out there, being completely self-sufficient, and constantly surrounded by a thick cloud of his own hot air.

I thought the Bush-Gore election cycle was bad. It's almost like this time the two branches of the Inner Party are putting up decoy candidates in advance of the primaries, so that they can get shot down, and the real candidates can safely fly in over the flak.

As long as companies can get away with this sort of behavior without any meaningful penalty from either government, consumers, or labor unions, it will only grow worse. It seems ever more prevalent that the corporate accountants no longer tally "ethical integrity" on the correct side of the business ledgers.

The dominant issue in the campaigns right now is illegal immigration.

That's right: probably the hardest working people in the country, doing the jobs nobody else particularly wants with a smile on their face, saving money too, with research proving they have lower crime rates than citizens.

This is what the "electorate" is most focused on.

And by "electorate" you mean "primates whose brains evolved to solve survival tasks they faced on the savannah, which didn't include practicing logic or empathy."

> magical libertarian

That's a pleonasm.

>Im sure Larry and Jeff had good intentions when they started their companies but now that it's in the hands of middle management it's no different than any other big corp.

Why is it that there are some in this community that want bank CEOs jailed for what their underlings do, but give a pass to tech darlings, who have "lost control" to the MBAs as the company has grown?

Are leaders responsible for the behaviour of employees, or are they not?

I'm pretty certain that these are exactly Jeff's intentions. Jeff wants everyone to play hardball and take no prisoners, and that includes both the way that Amazon treats its business partners and the way it treats its employees. Its customers are typically a different story since they understand they can't piss off customers too badly and need to give them what they want.

I can't speak for Larry, but I worked at Amazon from 2001-2006 and everything you've read recently is consistent with the corporate culture back then, and falls directly out of guidance from Jeff. What you are reading about is the end result of Jeff executing successfully on his vision.

Escalate - I know a number of VPs within Google that absolutely won't stand for this. Be prepared to document performance - this will only work if she really is performing equally to other team members. But there are a number of executives at Google who are very committed to gender equality within Google - I'm thinking of Yonatan or Eisar here, or even Urs or Sundar - and the timing seems mighty suspicious.

Get a lawyer.

Congratulations on twins!

No, it's not the same everywhere. My coworker recently came back from five months maternity leave, and next year women at my standard big corp will receive 8. Parental leave is seen as a completely normal part of work life.

Wow - honestly surprised by this as I am a Google employee and so is my wife. Last year before she went on maternity leave she was placed on a pip as well and remained on a PIP status until two weeks she returned from ML, 5 months later. A PIP is intimidating, yes, but they are structured to identify where you need immediate improvement. I know she didn't feel any pressure to leave or animosity towards her and granted her case is totally different, the working culture here has a big emphasis on retaining as many Google employees as possible and helping them grow, whether that's through uplifting or criticism. My suggestion would be to escalate it. I know personally that that type of behavior or even intentions are rare and extremely frowned upon. Our benefits teams did a great job making sure she was set up for maternity leave and even personally delivered our baby bonus to us while still at the hospital. (which isn't typical, I had some issues with her identity being stolen) Hell, one of our company motos is simply "Don't be evil".

P.S after my wife's PIP, it was determined that her skills could be be utilized on a different team, so she was given an opportunity that she continues to excel in today. Cheers!

Do you think she would have been let go if the opportunity wasn't found in the other team?

PIPs are pretty widely recognized as "this is your advance notice that you will be laid off." Almost sounds like the writing was on the wall but she got lucky with an internal move.

Sorry for your wife bad experiences. Who are "they" trying to get rid of her? Did she escalate?

I'm low-mid level Eng working for Google for a lot of years, your story is quite surprise to me.

I had a new born a couple of months ago. Every time I want x weeks leave, I simply spend 1 - 2 minutes filling a form online and will receive a call shortly to confirm the leave. Then all set.

During 1:1s, my manager always asks me to inform him in any case I have to work after hours. I really appreciate his consideration on my life. (Of course, each manager could be different).

Her direct manager and the one above him, as well as HR, unsurprisingly, aren't taking her side or being supportive. Of course, as soon as she mentioned to HR that she believed that her pregnancy had something to do with the sudden need for performance improvement, they gave a scripted BS answer that they would never terminate based on pregnancy. They also, at no point, gave her a chance to provide input. Simply one day, her manager and his boss just sat down with her and gave her a 'choice'.

She's in a group that's supposedly not doing very well in Google so this could be why. Still, she's a talented and very well educated individual (she was literally loved in all her previous jobs, even in the jobs she didn't like).

The poor Google experience may be exceptional, but we have 2 friends who recently joined Google and have a really bad time.

Not the same everywhere, or wasn't. At least two women arrived at Qualcomm QCT about 10 years ago, from outside the US, so very likely on H1-B, then within months announced they were pregnant, and Qualcomm took good care of them. Fellow Americans thought it looked conspicuous in timing, though Qualcomm still took care of them. And it seemed to hurt nothing to do so. [edit: typo]

Isn't maternity leave covered by FMLA ? Does PIP circumspect FMLA requirements ?

Birth and Bonding [0]

Prohibited Acts / Mistreatment / Retaliation [1]

0. http://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/fmla-faqs.htm#7

1. http://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/fmla-faqs.htm#19

Best of luck proving retaliation.

what does PIP stand for?

PIP stands for "Performance Improvement Plan". I don't have experience with one, but from what I've read, it sounds like management-speak for "We're going to find a reason to fire you". Michael O. Church has an interesting perspective [0]:

""" Most people think of “performance improvement” as something well-intended, because they take performance to mean “how good I am at my job”....

However, that’s not what “performance” means in the context of a employment contract. When a contract exists, non-performance is falling short of an agreed-upon provision of the contract. It doesn’t mean that the contract was fulfilled but in a mediocre way. It means that the contract was breached. """

0: https://michaelochurch.wordpress.com/2012/12/24/never-sign-a...

To dissent with the others, I suggest that it stands for "pretext instead-of payment" rather than "performance improvement plan".

If you are ever given a PIP, polish up your resume and look for a new job, immediately. Your company is trying to fire you without giving you either the grounds to sue them or compensatory payment. You will also need to record and regularly back up all interactions with your superiors until you leave. There is no meaningful way to recover from a PIP without a judge or union rep on your side. Your career with that company is over.

Performance Improvement Plan - it's when you get "evaluated" for "underperforming" but is really just often used as a first step to getting rid of someone.

ie creating a paper trail of documentation of underperformance to prove that you weren't discriminated against

Performance Improvement Plan. In other words, it provides legal protection when they fire you.

Performance Improvement Plan

performance improvement plan

"Anyway, long story short its the same everywhere. "

So shouldn't we be yelling even louder? That seems to make it even more unacceptable.

"Im sure Larry and Jeff had good intentions when they started their companies but now that it's in the hands of middle management it's no different than any other big corp."

I'm not so sure, especially about Jeff Bezos.

Holy cow:

    "After my surgery [for cancer], while I was still on
     maternity leave, I received a form letter saying 
     that the health insurance provided by my employer 
     had been terminated. Dozens of panicked emails 
     and phone calls later, the whole thing was, I was
     told, a glitch in the system. After a week of back 
     and forth, I was offered COBRA coverage, by which 
     point I had already switched to my husband’s 
     insurance, where I remained for the duration of my 
That's a pretty GIGANTIC "glitch," one that turned out hugely in Amazon's favor. Cheiffetz claims she accepts that it was an "administrative error," but you have to wonder. By getting her to switch to her husband's plan, Amazon may have saved themselves hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Sounds like a great application of their Frugality principle. http://www.amazon.jobs/principles

On another note, those are some of the cheesiest stock photos they ever could have picked.

I'm sure an algorithm picked them.

Even a design intern working for free could have picked better photos.

I had to look at them preparing for my AWS interview, then I had to parrot the principles back at them through my own experience.

"What was your biggest failure?"

(Alright...let me try to pick one of the leadership principle to parrot back through my biggest failure while also having my self-esteem show down thinking about my failures).

Surprisingly they have less of the deliberate yes-we-have-diversity than the usual selection of stock photos used on such a document by a big company.

Yeap, they treat their people frugally.

"glitch in the system", sounds like business requirement to me. HR could not reactivate her health insurance so they called it a glitch in the system.

I am sorry for all the folks working there.

Yes, one of the big lessons of the corporate world is that almost anything you hear from HR, even in good companies, is a lie. OR at least, some sort of spin. Even when they are saying good things, they don't really know, they're just making stuff up, or exaggerating. It's like they are trained to live in this fantasy world and pitch that to the employees.

Not sure why you got downvoted. This has also been my experience. I've worked at companies ranging from 8 to 300 employees, and everywhere HR has been highly incompetent (most of the time 30 something women spending their time buying shoes online). And when they were competent they were working to protect the company, not employees' ass. HR is never on your side.

I'm sorry you've had bad experiences, but this isn't really true, in the sense that HR is different from any other department in this regard. Think about it – doesn't the same apply to corporate IT for example?

I dunno, Scott Adams got HR pretty good when he created Catbert.

Wow, that's ungrammatical.

Or possibly rhetorical writing intended to convey an offhand comment by impersonating the style of speech. Who can say?

I've no insight about Amazon's process with insurance, but being with Covered California we lose our insurance about twice per year due to "glitches" in the system. Each time we find out months later when a claim gets declined and thus requires hours spent on the phone, going through various levels of support.

It wouldn't surprise me at all that the entire health insurance infrastructure in the country is glitchy to the core, but who knows.

The insurance company saved money, but did Amazon? I thought the portion of premiums that employers pay is fixed? That's why everyone pays premiums- the healthy subsidize the sick. And when there are more healthy than sick, the insurance company profits.

What am I missing, how would Amazon save money by her switching insurance providers?

> The insurance company saved money, but did Amazon? I thought the portion of premiums that employers pay is fixed?

Large companies actually underwrite their own plans (this is known as self-insuring[0]). The plan is managed by a known insurance company (e.g. Aetna, Blue Cross), so from the employee's perspective it's the same, but the actual risk is borne by the company. I would be very surprised if Amazon did not do this, given their size (~200K employees) and company age (over 20 years).

As a rule of thumb, the break-even point is about 1000 lives covered. Once a company gets to that point, it starts to be in their best interest to underwrite the insurance plans they provide.

Source: Founded a health-tech company that sold to insurers (which meant selling to companies that self-funded their plans as well, as they were they real risk-bearing entity).

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-funded_health_care

It's interesting to consider why it's ~1000 and not some other number like 100 or 10,000. It's probably a combination of irreducible information complexity (a system for adding/removing people, processing premiums, investigating claims, paying providers probably costs too much for 100 people) and statistical risk (100 people are chaotic, whereas 1000 people are relatively smooth).

Yes but a self insured company should also buy catastrophic reinsurance that covers high claims cases.

Reinsurance doesn't completely let the company off the hook for the costs (in the long run). Even if reinsurance covers 100% of costs above the cap (which it typically does not), those costs will just get factored into the future premiums charged to the company[0] .

It makes it hard to place an exact price tag on how much this employee's coverage would have cost the company without knowing the details, but it's clear that it would have been very expensive to them one way or the other - and certainly a lot more than it cost them to have her switch to her husband's insurance instead.

[0] It's just like how your renter's insurance rates will [often] skyrocket immediately if you try to file any claim at all. People aren't used to this in the consumer health insurance market because there's a lot of indirection in the healthcare system, but that's how all insurance models work at a high level[1], so that's how the costs all (eventually) flow (extra emphasis on "eventually").

[1] There's also the added wrinkle that we also use "health insurance" as a political tool to do things that have nothing to do with risk smoothing at all, so the model gets tricky to unpack, but that's a separate matter.

While I agree with your comment overall, this "It's just like how your renter's insurance rates will skyrocket immediately if you try to file any claim at all" is not true in all cases. I filed what turned out to be a $10K claim for theft against renter's insurance, on a policy that I had only had for about 3 years. The claim was paid in full, with no pushback, even though I did not have receipts for all of the items stolen, and there was absolutely zero increase in premium. The policy has been renewed twice since then, again, without premium increase.

Thanks, good info!

Read this to find answer: http://fortune.com/2014/02/12/why-aol-ended-up-spending-mill...

I thought Tim Armstrong(AOL) is evil but Jeff is on another level. At least AOL did not fire the mother.

This is a ridiculously roundabout way of pointing out self-insurance.

The main reason you are not an insurance company is that insurance only works at scale. But if you have a big enough pile of cash to effectively run your own insurance company, then you can go pay Humana (or whatever) a lot less to just handle the paperwork instead of the actual insurance. It's often a good way to provide better coverage for your employees and spend less money on it, since you aren't paying an insurance company for participation in the risk pool.

But then this does create conflicts of interest where the company is directly incentivized not to pay out for employee health. This isn't particularly worse than the private model; private insurance companies are always incentivized not to pay out.

This is why we need single-payer. You need an actor without a profit motive, and government is it.

> This is why we need single-payer. You need an actor without a profit motive, and government is it.

That's a really common talking point for single-payer healthcare, but it unfortunately it doesn't hold up under scrutiny. Government-run agencies have the exact same incentives for profit as private companies do, even if they don't use the terms "profit", "margin", and "P/E ratio".

Ironically, the closest thing we have to single-payer healthcare model is Medicare[0], which absolutely does have all the problems associated with a profit motive. In many ways, it's worse, because Medicare is able to set prices across the board by fiat, is not required to negotiate with providers, and is essentially mandatory for providers (so providers just have to swallow whatever reimbursement rates Medicare offers). As a result, providers make an operating loss on Medicare patients[1], to the tune of 7% nationwide.

Think about it from Medicare's perspective. You have to balance your books at the end of the year. Do you either (1) ask Congress to raise taxes to increase your budget and hope they act quickly, or (2) lower the price you decide to pay for services, knowing that it will have zero impact on whether or not providers will still perform services for you? Unsurprisingly, they choose (2).

Also, ironically, most patients who are happy with their Medicare plans[2] are actually using privately managed Medicare plans anyway. So they're essentially opting into profit-driven insurance anyway, with the only difference being that their premiums are being "subsidized" by their past tax withholdings.

[0] There's also the VA, but single-payer advocates usually balk at that comparison since the VA actually operates the medical practice itself, unlike the single-payer models typically proposed.

[1] This means that they make a loss even before accounting for any overhead, such as salaries, or markup.

[2] And at the rate that MA is increasing, pretty soon the majority of all Medicare patients altogether.

Better coverage? What a joke. In the US, self insurance is a way for corporations to avoid state and local laws regarding health care through the use of ERISA. For example, if your state mandates that health insurance plans must cover a minimum set of infertility treatments, ERISA, when invoked through your employer's new self-insured plan, let's call it PlanX, overrides the state mandate and allows PlanX to decline coverage for those same infertility treatments.

Yes, I have experienced this first hand.

The AOL issue is completely separate. AOL self insured which is why they paid out of pocket. Amazon has proper insurance.

I thought the portion of premiums that employers pay is fixed?

I don't know about the new laws and such, but that sounds kind of silly to me. Why would they have to pay if she's not covered?

I meant fixed per person, regardless of medical services rendered. But as others have pointed out, Amazon most likely self-insures, so they take on the risk and stand to gain much by dropping an unhealthy person.

Larger companies often self-insure, so Amazon might be paying the actual healthcare bills instead of paying insurance premiums.

I wonder if there is a legitimate glitch that is at the absolute bottom of a priority list to fix (and stays there) because it makes them more money.

Does insurance have the concept of "breakage" like with rebates in terms of whether people follow through on these "glitches?"

It saddens me that in the 21st century in the richest country in the world people having babies and being diagnosed with cancer have to worry about treatment and money, the last thing they should be thinking about.

What a sad state of affairs.

I remember when "Breaking Bad" started airing in Europe, people were calling the premise of the plot "unrealistic" and the media had to explain how health care (didn't) work in the US and how people who get cancer can basically fuck their whole family financially.

It's true that cancer can fuck your life financially in the US. However the central plot of Breaking Bad wasn't healthcare coverage. It was Walt trying to leave a lot of money for his children after he died. He essentially received a terminal diagnosis.

Walt could have gotten coverage from his former company, they made him an offer that he refused. He preferred to kill people and sell drugs instead, because he liked it.

I grew up in Europe, been living in the US for 15 years now.

I would not have bought the premise of that show 15 years ago. Absolutely not. It would have seemed beyond far-fetched.

But not anymore, sadly. I can totally believe it now. Makes me wonder if I need to re-evaluate some of my biggest choices in life.

That's incredible! Do you have a source for this? Or do you know which media were saying this?

What is so incredible about it? Is it incredible to understand that in countries where universal health care is the norm the US system seems completely alien? For example, I gave up trying to explain to my parents who still live in Europe how my health care works. They don't understand why it's part of the package when I take a new job.

I tried to find a source but couldn't, it's too old, all the matches I got where about the new spin-off. I remember seeing it mostly on TV and TV magazine (critics of the series). Just to be clear, it wasn't a full documentary about the US system :) just a note to explain that the US doesn't have universal health care and that people without insurance were in deep shit.

Well, but it is pretty typical for banana republics.

Guess it's not that rich then huh.

The U.S. is not the richest country in the world, at least not anymore.

Who cares. This "actually, we're not #1" pedantic bs is just a distraction from the problem.

The point was we are VERY rich and could afford to not have our citizens stress about healthcare.

It's not "you" who is very rich.

>It's not "you" who is very rich.

Oh no? I'm in top 0.2% in income in the world, and I'm sure there are people here doing far better than I am. How about you?


And this pedantic distinction does nothing whatsoever to diminish the outrage that the parent poster rightly feels.

Pointless. New York state, New York city, etc. which feature in the article are the among the wealthiest regions in the world. You are not talking about a coal mining company in rural Kentucky or a mom and pop hardware store in Alabama. This is Amazon, which on paper at least, has the wealth to implement humane policies.

The US has the highest total GDP in the world by a fairly large margin. That's a pretty reasonable measure of "richness".

So California is 75 times richer than Vermont? Vermont might be a terrible place to live... it's even poorer than the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

I'm not saying that total GDP is necessarily the best metric for "richness" of a place, but it is a commonly used one.

I think per-capita GDP is clearly a better metric, putting the US around 10th, but total GDP isn't an awful one for broad strokes.

> So California is 75 times richer than Vermont?

California is also, like, 75 times bigger than Vermont in pretty much every metric, so I'm not sure why you seem so surprised by such an implication.

My point, in case it's not obvious enough, is that GDP is not a good definition of richness in the context of a discussion about how can these things happen "in the richest country in the world".

Except that GDP is a perfectly fine definition for that. A national healthcare system is something which is strongly inflenced by things like economies of scale; measuring by any metric other than GDP and government budget would make very little sense. If the DoD can afford to burn trillions on a jack-of-all-trades fighter that sucks at pretty much all the jobs it's meant to take on, it can almost certainly afford to give every American free healthcare, free college educations, and at least two moon colonies to boot.

The point of the "richest country in the world" remark is that the U.S. could very well afford to be the most progressive modern society if it chose to do so. Instead, it opts to sink money in failed fighter projects and nebulous "terrorist"-hunting surveillance and drone strike programs.

Yes it is. The US is 4.6% of the global population and holds about 40% to 45% of all global wealth.

US households alone hold $85 to $90 trillion.

This is from 2010, US assets have massively rebounded since then, likely pushing this figure even higher.

"Some 39 percent of the world’s wealth belongs to Americans, while Western Europe accounts for another 31 percent."


Irrelevant. We're close enough to the top that it makes no difference to the person's point. It should be absolutely unacceptable that this happens in a civilized nation.

In those countries where such luxuries are provided, the option of working for a (homegrown) tech giant isn't even available: http://www.mondaynote.com/2015/08/24/why-europe-hates-us-int...

How terrible. Perhaps healthcare for all is tradeoff worth making. Or we can continue on as savages in the US.

EDIT: I can see my karma for this comment is swinging around wildly. Consider the following:

* You are (based on the typical HN audience) probably young now, most likely healthy. You will eventually get older, and will likely have medical issues eventually.

* I argue that healthcare is not something to be earned, but something you are entitled to as a human being. No one should ever die from health reasons due to not having enough money. If its too expensive to do this (which is clearly false, as other countries are able to do so with less money than we spend in the US), we use R&D spending to ruthlessly drive down the cost.

* I came to this point of view over time. I am a healthy young male. I've known people who have died because they couldn't afford healthcare. I've known someone who worked as a prostitute to pay for her SOs cancer treatment. My mother would not have been able to afford a surgery to mediate her degenerative disc disease in her spine without the affordable care act.

I am not arguing for the elimination of the tech startup scene in order to have universal healthcare. I'm arguing for the transition to single payer and the streamlining of healthcare deliver in the US to lower costs AND ensure coverage for everyone.

We're a first world developed country, and its about time like we acted like one.

I don't think it's even a tradeoff: in countries like Italy, health care costs less, as a percentage of GDP, than in the US. In a startup like the one I worked at there, with about 30 people, there were 0 people in the company who had anything to do with health care stuff, because it's not the company that deals with it. That's a net win.

Of course, there are other things that are not so good for businesses in various European countries, but I'd chalk up the health care system as a win for small companies and entrepreneurs.

I think lobbying to make profit based on suffering, ie. inflating the price of medicine, denying coverage, etc needs to be illegal. People literally die because of the profit incentive for the insurance industry.

What the hell is it with Americans taking their broken healthcare system as a source of pride? You spend more public money on your healthcare system per capita than any country save Norway and Switzerland[1]. You would save money and be able to lower taxes if you adopted universal healthcare, yet you persist in your delusion that your shitty healthcare is what allows you to be an economic powerhouse.


[1] http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SH.XPD.PCAP?order=wbapi_...

All I can conclude is that in US politics, it's far more politically suicidal to give things away to individuals for free than to waste government money.

America is not a forward-thinking country anymore. This is not yet apparent for everyone, simply because very large amounts of financial and military power are still amassed here, which allow the country to dominate the world. But its ethos is falling far behind the times. That will take a while to unravel.

It's because since your healthcare is intrinsically linked to your employment, it gives management a leg up on labor.

Is there supposed to be a cause-and-effect here? Because I'm not seeing how that's related?

"the option of working for a (homegrown) tech giant isn't even available"

umm.... so what? we should sacrifice the health of a nation of hundreds of millions of folks so a few hundred thousand get to work at 'homegrown tech giants'? w00t!

If you look at the list of the top ten wealthiest IT companies, other than the US you are talking about Taiwan, South Korea and Japan, all of which manage to have social provision for such luxuries, as you put it.

So the choices are to receive healthcare for all, or for a tiny fraction of the population to have the chance to maybe work for a shitty company that clearly hates their employees?

If you can lose your health insurance for being sick, it's not insurance.

If you can only use it for routine and preventative care, and not for emergencies, it's not insurance. It's a backwards payment plan that puts all the risk on the patient, instead of the insurance company. It doesn't "insure" anything. It only insures that you lose coverage when it stops being a payment plan.

Calling it insurance is a farce.

That's the one thing a really don't like about Obamacare: it's doing away with "catastrophic insurance" which is really what insurance actually is.

But I suspect when given the choice between cheap insurance or an expensive payment plan, everyone would pick the former.

That's because the US has turned into a defacto buyer-coalition system where you have to pay to join a club (health insurance provider) which negotiates rates with health care providers. If you don't join such a club, you get charged rates that can be significantly higher (read 2x or more).

I agree

Insurances should not be priced 'bottom to top', the basic coverage should cover the more needed and costly procedures then start adding more 'optional' coverage with increased payments.

Yeah, in the US (as someone who works in the health insurance industry) - what is described as 'health insurance' in the US meets very few of the definitions of 'insurance'.

It's really more accurately "(Group) Healthcare Cost Amortization".

I once took a class on business operations. In it, we studied the value discipline model of the firm:

To succeed in the marketplace, companies must embrace a competitive strategy. Authors Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersma describe three generic competitive strategies, or value disciplines: operational excellence, customer intimacy and product leadership. These are described in their book, The Discipline of Market Leaders (1997).

The author’s main premise is that companies must choose—and then achieve—market leadership in one of the three disciplines, and perform to an acceptable level in the other two. [1]

Operational Excellence: Amazon, Walmart

Product Leadership: Apple, Mercedes Benz

Customer Intimacy: Nordstroms, Home Depot

We studied Amazon and Walmart as case studies for companies that have pushed the boundaries of operational excellence. You can also think of these companies as the ones who cut costs on a race to the bottom; companies at which efficiency is prized above all else.

Don't have a kid while working for a company that demonstrates a strict adherence to the value proposition of operational excellence. You will be regarded as just another expendable cost on the bottom line, and you will be replaced by a younger, hungrier individual with less commitments outside of work. The company will find a way around the laws that generally protect mothers/fathers in these situations - that is why they are a market leader, because they will go where no other companies are willing/able to in order to uphold the mantra of operational excellence.

[1] http://www.marsdd.com/mars-library/competitive-strategies-in...

How is Home Depot a model of "Customer Intimacy". Have you been to one of their stores? If you do, god forbid, don't ever go on the weekend and look for help.

Got the Home Depot example from an HBR article. [1] Just realized it was dated 1993. Home Depot has definitely changed a lot since then. Better examples might be Trader Joe's or Virgin Airlines.

[1] https://hbr.org/1993/01/customer-intimacy-and-other-value-di...

I don't know where you are... but in Bay Area, California my experience with Home Depot locations around here have always been very positive. There's always someone walking around with those orange aprons and they always know where something is in the store. Note though, that before I go to Home Depot I've done all the research I can on what I need to fix/create whatever I need in my home. I've watched youtube vids of people making repairs very similar to what I'm trying to do. So I don't go in like a deer in the headlights; when I show up at Home Depot I know exactly what item I need or very specific question to ask.

This widely varies. In Livermore (technically Bay Area) I asked a simple question of whether they sold a compass. The man in the orange apron had no idea what a compass was, and I had to correct his spelling of 'compass' as he searched for it on homedepot.com . It was very bizzare.

Are you by any chance referring to the RWC or EPA stores? I've been to both and had miserable experiences each time. Employees that I can only describe as the "B-team" with no answers. Looking at my like deer in headlights when I ask a simple question on where to find a grout scraper, etc.

Decided to go to my local ACE hardware store and the experience was night and day. Never going back to Home Depot if I can avoid it.

A coworker of mine at Amazon was diagnosed with cancer, and as far as I can tell, he was treated with the utmost respect and decency. His team and managers made a lot of accommodation for him while he underwent treatment. Unfortunately, he eventually passed away - to my knowledge, he was still employed to the very end (I moved away and left the company for other reasons, but many of my friends/coworkers stayed and are still there today).

So, I have an anecdote, and this story is an anecdote. I'm not saying that my friend's story offsets the story here (especially because I wasn't the cancer patient in either case). Let's slow down before we draw too many conclusions from either one.

From the Article:

"You can’t claim to be a data-driven company and not release more specific numbers on how many women and people of color apply, get hired and promoted, and stay on as employees. In the absence of meaningful public data — especially retention data — all we have are stories."

Unless Amazon is willing to release the numbers, then most people will tend to believe the bad stories (like Julia's) over stories like your friend's.

People can believe both stories. Even companies a lot smaller than Amazon can be inconsistent in how they handle things.

That is the ultimate truth. If Bezos really stands by what he says then he's got to root out and cut out the [managerial] cancer is his company.

That quote addresses a separate (but very real) question. Issues of diversity in hiring and promotion are really important, and clearly affect lots of companies. I agree that Amazon should release those numbers, and I would not be surprised if Amazon would come up lacking here. But to single Amazon out based on this anecdote is unfair.

Fair? There is no fair in reputation. You either have a good one or you don't, and it's always easier to lose it. It takes hard work to earn back what you've lost in the eyes of society, and if you're not willing to go the extra disrance for it, then you don't deserve it.

Amazon has gone significant lengths for me as a customer. The fact they aren't addressing this issue with the same intensity should be telling.

this whole nyt article has turned into a fucking witch hunt. what exactly is amazon NOT doing to address these issues? why should it be any business of yours on how they address the issues since you aren't involved (proverbial you, maybe you do work there)? the way things are going it makes absolutely no sense for amazon to post anything about the situation because whatever is said will be torn to shreds and people will demand more information.

what exactly would you expect them to do to address the situation? I dont see people who currently work at amazon complaining. some say thats because they're scared to which could be true or maybe it's just that the people who are giving these stories happened to have a lot of things fall into place at just the wrong time to make it seem malicious. no one in these stories post about what they did to demonstrate that they were performing well or not, only that other things were happening in their life then they got bad performance reviews. you know what? thats actually a common thing, major life events happen and your work performance starts to become poor. why not ask how long a company should continue paying an employee who's performing poorly? it's something that I have never seen an answer to by anyone or any company. on top of that what if someone had been doing poorly for a good amount of time, then just before review time comes up when they're going to get a bad review, they announce that they are pregnant or sick. what should a company do then?

as I said in the beginning, this whole thing has turned into a witch hunt and nobody cares to ask any of the questions that matter and allow any one or company to build off of.

Lets see about this incoherent stream of consciousness ranting...

1. why should it be any business of yours on how they address the issues since you aren't involved (proverbial you, maybe you do work there)?

Because even in a capitalism based society, there ought to be boundaries set up to prevent abuse of workers - directly or indirectly. You can't treat people like cattle.

2. the way things are going it makes absolutely no sense for amazon to post anything about the situation because whatever is said will be torn to shreds and people will demand more information.

False. If Amazon made a genuine effort and owned up to their past mistakes, revamped a few policies and company culture, instead of making meaningless PR-speak statements, that would genuinely change people's minds.

3. I dont see people who currently work at amazon complaining


4. or maybe it's just that the people who are giving these stories happened to have a lot of things fall into place at just the wrong time to make it seem malicious.

Would be true if it happened to one or two people. But it seems like a pattern with Amazon. Hard to blame "bad luck". There is a positive correlation.

5. o one in these stories post about what they did to demonstrate that they were performing well or not

Because they were busy being sick with cancer.

6. why not ask how long a company should continue paying an employee who's performing poorly?

So the next time you have a bad day at work, maybe your boss will be completely justified in firing you.

7. what if someone had been doing poorly for a good amount of time, then just before review time comes up when they're going to get a bad review, they announce that they are pregnant or sick.

Doubt this will be as common a scenario as you think, but lets assume it is. Lets even grant you that the company is justified in firing that employee. Does that make the cut-throat backstabbing, review anonymously, email on weekends and midnight, survive or die Darwinian culture at Amazon ok?

8. this whole thing has turned into a witch hunt

Wrong. Amazon is not a person. Nobody is demanding Bezos' head on a pike. It's about highlighting a cultural problem within an organization from which you'd certainly expect better.

9. Nobody cares to ask any of the questions that matter and allow any one or company to build off of.

Well, enlighten us.

1. I agree however there hasn't been any analysis done on the situation of these claims. for example how long after this lady returned was she put on a PIP? what were the terms of her PIP, as in what did she need to improve? did an insurance glitch happen to other people in the company or was it just her?

2. what policies have actually been violated? again no analysis has been done (publicly) for any of the existing claims. if amazon does an analysis and finds that things were done according to policy and that policy is not out of the ordinary from other companies, they would have to divulge personal information about these employees which should not and I'm sure wont happen. maybe the ceo of the company can instead make a broad public statement that this should not happen and that if it does happen to report it to him personally?

4. in the scope of how many people who currently or have ever worked at amazon, this is effectively one or two people.

5. they were too busy being sick to report why they got a bad performance review and what they did to improve it?

6. what? I said that no one has said what they feel is acceptable and no one has reported how long they were performing poorly. of course one day is reduculous, but is 6 months?

7. now you're following along with all the rhetoric. as others have reported, the anonymous reviews are usually used to provide good feedback and help people get promoted. emails on weekends and midnight are just a random anecdote from the nyt article that didnt go into much detail. cut-throat backstabbing? that's the first ive really heard of this. survive or die? is that not true for every company out there?

8. just because it's a company doesnt mean it can't be a witch hunt. additionally if you read the comments many people are demanding bezos' head on a pike. regarding the culture, what about the people who do enjoy and thrive in that kind of culture?

As an Amazon shareholder I have a right to be concerned about how they treat my employees.

yeah that's a very valid point. shareholders (and potential) of a publicly traded company should be aware of concerns like this and I retract my points about whether people should be judging on this (though I doubt most people commenting do it in that light).

Thats like saying you flew an airline safely while I tell you my friend died in a plane crash on the same airline. Those anecdotes do not carry the same weight at all. Situations like the OP should not be happening ... ever.

I wonder how much of that was tied to your friend's position and ... perhaps even gender? Your friend only had one of the conditions enumerated in this story.

Yeah, just like we should slow down before drawing conclusions from the NYT article.

Or before drawing conclusions from the plethora of anonymous posts all over the Internet.

Etc etc.

Even if this story is just an anecdote, it is completely and absolutely unacceptable that Amazon would let anyone be treated like that. This is the kind of story that should end with people being fired for incompetence.

I don't disagree. I only point out that people should not assume that this is the norm based on the single anecdote.

The point is it anectode don't cancel out like that

It's like telling that's acceptable to have a plane crashing for every other plane that arrives safely.

The NYTimes article just turned the tap on. I am sure that the snippets in the nytimes article were not one off anymore.

I roughly 2006 I planned to leave my job and go to a new city, and Amazon was the first company I considered working for because the Pacific northwest interested me.

Some light research online indicated that Amazon would not be a good place to work. It was just anecdotes, but I had a nagging feeling that these negative anecdotes about Amazon were easier to find than for other large companies I was considering. I decided against pursuing Amazon, but wondered if I had put too much weight on this research.

It stuck in my mind and all the other negative things I've heard about Amazon between 2006 and now sort of snowballed for me. How they treat their corporate employees, how they treat their warehouse employees. How they treat their business partners. How they treat their sellers. (Hint: the opposite of how they treat their buyers.) And so on.

So the recent NYT article told me nothing new. I had already realized that Amazon had this definite pattern. Whereas the occasional anecdote you hear about other companies just remains a few anecdotes, it doesn't become a pattern.

For most readers of Hacker News, though, I suspect that they see these anecdotes rarely, and for many the NYT article is the first one... yet they have seen press releases from Amazon that are designed to tout it as a tech company and Jeff Bezos as the next Steve Jobs, every month, like clock work for the past decade. (and we'll get even more of them now.)

The anecdotes are hard to find. Glassdoor promotes positive reviews over negative ones, effectively burying them, even when the negative ones have more up votes and you're looking at reviews ranked by vote!

Most people Amazon is hiring aren't exposed to the negative reviews of the company.

> Most people Amazon is hiring aren't exposed to the negative reviews of the company.

Yeah, that's why it's so important for people to gain awareness of this while it's so visible. It's not just anecdotes, it's a pattern. Every large company has things about it that suck, every company has its former employees with complaints about it. But Amazon is in a qualitatively different category. Other companies don't get such a bad overall reputation.

After all of the excitement of the keynotes and the dazzling new hardware and software products are released, few forget that Steve Jobs was also a very authoritarian and abusive figure, and that Apple is a company just like any other.

Even before getting to anecdotes about the experience of working there, I was put off by the interview process. They have asked me to drive from Indianapolis to Chicago to interview with a large group of people.

Thanks, but no thanks.

Glassdoor's revenue comes from companies advertising to job seekers. It would not surprise me if this comes with a handshake deal to make the advertiser look good.

Glassdoor's entire revenue stream is dependent on having a user-base visit them to generate the impressions that comprise their inventory of job seekers.

That user-base will only continue to visit Glassdoor if they maintain their reputation of having credible reviews around companies. It really does not seem in their best interest to shoot themselves in the foot in that regard. Of course Yelp was accused of similar things (whether true or not) and I'm not sure it really hurt them, so who knows.

I don't think it's fair to accuse Glassdoor of corruption.

Even it makes it clear that Amazon is a much worse employer than other tech firms, with an average rating of 3.0 vs >4 for Google, Facebook, etc. [0]

[0] http://www.glassdoor.com/Reviews/Amazon-com-Reviews-E6036.ht...

If you aspire to be a startup entrepreneur, take note. Stories are the most powerful form of communication you can use. Whether its your experience in working for Amazon, or a multi billion dollar pitch for your next startup.

Great piece.

This seems like a very strange lesson to take away from a woman being denied healthcare.

This is why I would never want to work at Amazon. I get requests from their recruiters all the time and based on these stories even though they most it seems are not related to the technology department make me disgusted when I think of working for them. They have great products (which I really enjoy) and software but if they cannot take care of their employees how well can they take care of their customers? It is sad that a company like this does this. It tells me you cannot enjoy your life working for a company like them.

Well, I think now we can all start replying to those recruiters by citing these issues and sending links to these articles. They may not care, because those of us for whom these are horror stories rather than romantic tales of an energizing sink-or-swim environment may just not be their target demographic for employees.

Why not go through the interview process (perhaps as practice for companies you actually care about) and then if you get to an offer stage, politely decline then cite the reasons. Your decline should be much more visible as many more people past the initial recruiter will have met with you, etc. Might make more of a difference.

More importantly, it gives you the chance to have a conversation with real people (and hopefully ones you'd be working with) to get a clearer picture of things with which to make a more balanced decision.

There are always enough talented people who have been on the job market long enough to be desperate for an offer from even shitty employers. I'd imagine the net effect of all this fuss about working conditions, on Amazon's ability to attract talent would be minimal.

This is the bottom line. There is almost always more available, desperate labor out there than job opportunities, and with the advances of automation, this is more and more likely to be the case. Expect even shittier behavior from employers because they will increasingly be able to get away with it.

> if they cannot take care of their employees how well can they take care of their customers?

They take care of their customers very well. Their customers are their revenue stream, not their cost centers.

Good for her that switched jobs and carried on. In terms of Amazon ... who knows .. another company that don't give a shit about their people.

Exactly, Amazon does not give a shit!

I'm going to take the road less traveled and be critical. For a piece that is essentially about a (painful and harsh) health insurance screw-up, this article is shoehorning quite an agenda:

> I met some of the strongest, most brilliant women of my career there.

> I quickly noted, when it came to leadership positions, they were almost all men.

> the voices commenting on the New York Times piece so far have been predominantly male leaders of male-dominated teams.

> Women power your retail engine. They buy diapers. They buy books. They buy socks for their husbands on Prime.

> On behalf of all the people who want to speak up but can’t: Please, make Amazon a more hospitable place for women and parents.

> You can’t claim to be a data-driven company and not release more specific numbers on how many women and people of color apply, get hired and promoted, and stay on as employees.

Those types of statements can make sense in the right context but they seem out of place here, in this article. I wasn't able to make that connection that she seems to be able to make readily and without effort.

> a piece that is essentially about a (painful and harsh) health insurance screw-up

Did you miss the second half of the article where her team taken from her and she was placed on a PIP when she returned from maternity leave?

Clearly I read the entire article. I don't consider that to be relevant to the quotes I pulled and I'll explain why. She had a team, she went away for several months, the team needed be reassigned and when she returned, she (rightfully) expected to be returned to that same leadership position. But, what had happened, was that the team was reassigned. That much makes sense. I'm sure she got screwed over in that situation but I still don't make the connection she's drawing.

You are treated like crap in multiple ways at Amazon is the connection.

Being treated like crap doesn't automatically mean you're being treated like crap because of your gender or race. Right? I can't be the only person who believes that.

Amazon apparently doesn't have proper maternity leave procedures in place: if you go on mat leave it treats it like you left the company and your team gets reassigned. That's crap treatment that will only happen to one gender.

They have paternity leave, too. You're making a claim that can actually be verified so if you have any information to put forward, please do.

There's a difference between allowing people to take parental leave (eg their legal requirement) and actually supporting it.

If they only pay lip service to the letter of the law and you return to find your job effectively gone, then that's still crap treatment that will disproportionately affect one gender, given the usual length of maternity leave compared to paternity

but she did return to her existing job, it's just that it was now working with another team. would it be fair for the people who had been working for the interim manager to now have to switch managers again? that is going to affect their annual review and possible promotions. on top of that all her directs except for one were already gone, so why would it make sense to put her back on that team? did she start working there specifically to run that team because thats not usually how these big companies work, people are expected to have to occassionally switch from one team or another.

That's zero-sum: the (minor) cost the team pays for supporting the leave is repaid by the support they get when they need to take leave themselves.

The other things could and should have been improved by Amazon. Their obligation is to get you back into a situation as close as practicable to the one you left.

what are you talking about? reporting to a new manager is far from a minor cost, especially when it's a manager you never reported to to begin with. since everyone else is making random unfounded statements, her going on maternity leave probably had a lot to do with why there was only one person left on the team when she came back.

what about the new manager? why should they have to change teams? basically what you're saying is that everyone on the team should suffer significantly so that one person can return to lead the same team with different members rather than just leading a new team that needs a manager?

If properly handled maternity cover is a pretty painless process. It's not like a boss quitting: there are handover periods and keep-in-touch mechanisms. The new manager should be explicitly hired for maternity cover, and have their expectations set. It happens in most of Europe, almost without comment it's so routine.

If it's a massive career-impacting hassle for employees of people on leave at Amazon, where they "suffer significantly" that's yet more evidence for Amazon being a terrible place to work.

If by 'they' you mean Amazon, unfortunately that is not the case. Amazon does not have paternity leave.

Despite 'clearly' reading the entire article and having it pointed out, you missed/ignored the second part.

"Her team was reassigned" (during her extended absence) - reasonable. Disappointing, for her, perhaps, but reasonable.

"and she was placed on a PIP" - she comes back from maternity and is told, formally, 'your performance is unacceptable and is going to have to improve to stay at the company'. This just screams vindictiveness. "Your pregnancy inconvenienced the company / team, so here's a formal black mark for you, often used as an excuse to be able to fire you at any time in the future".

I did mention that she was screwed over. I'd say the PIP was part of that. That doesn't automagically equate to discrimination and I've yet to see any of these snide rebuttals put anything forth to change my mind about that.

What is your bar for discrimination then? Person takes a leave that is only available to their gender. Is screwed over as a result. It's not a complicated case, and that's even before you add in the cancer.

Proof is my bar. An email from her male manager telling HR to put her on notice for going on maternity leave would be more than sufficient to justify the claims in the article.

You'd make a terrible judge. "The suspect was found with the murder weapon in his hand, next to the body? Insufficient. Circumstantial. I need a confession".

No manager with any sense at all is ever going to write an email like that, don't be ludicrous.

I don't think you need to be a rocket scientist to "make the connection" here.

I read the piece as a commentary on Amazon's lacklustre (or worse) HR department, poor parental leave policies and systemic aversion to women in leadership rather than a "health insurance screw up". That seemed to be a subplot in a more wider issue - Amazon's callous disregard for employees and a culture which seems to actively discourage women from reaching executive leadership positions.

I'm pretty sure the point of the article was about women and Amazon, not "about a (painful and harsh) health insurance screw-up".

The health insurance "screw up" only occurred because she was on maternity leave. As a man, this isn't necessarily my area of expertise, but I'm pretty sure only women can go on maternity leave.

That's not to say this couldn't also happen to a new father on paternity leave... but paternity leave barely exists in the US to begin with.

Also, at the same time that she resigned from Amazon, several other editors did as well and returned to more standard publishing jobs.

This was right at the peak of the Amazon/Hachette beef. If you're an editor, it's not a big leap to realize that if you need a new job after Amazon, you're going to be less and less welcome the more time you spend there.

Some of her other projects fit in with the comments you quoted.

Like a couple of others pointed out, I don't think the piece is essentially about a health insurance screw up. I think it's about how bad the relationship between Amazon and its women is.

The narrative must be served at all costs. Do not oppose the narrative.

It was an article about what happened to the author with her maternity leave.

The relevance is that if you screw with maternity leave then you make your work environment toxic for anyone that gets pregnant, which only affects your female employees, and then usually well before they get anywhere near upper management.

For a general retailer, this is not a good plan.

> I was placed on a dubious performance improvement plan, or PIP, a signal at Amazon that your employment is at risk.

Ah, the PIP. Shorthand for "we're going to get rid of you because of office politics, but only after we humiliate you and make you feel like a horrible person".

The PIP also encourages the employee to resign instead of waiting to be fired, minimizing employer risk of wrongful termination lawsuits or having to pay severance. In the author's case, she resigned; the PIP was a success for Amazon.

Yup, but all the cool kids are/were on PIP ;-)

Amazon's Room 101, very neat Bozos indeed.

I must say that I admire this guy's "ingenuity" and psy ops he subjects employees to to make them conform and yield at their job.

Thank you. For all this talk about Amazon being a 'data-driven' company, I have yet to see any data on their employee churn rates from the people defending Amazon. I wonder why we don't hear about these types of horror stories from other companies?

It's frustrating because Google and Amazon are no doubt extremely impressive and truly have "changed the world".

The problem is that a lot of jerks are using the self-proclaimed "changing the world" mantle as cover for their lousy behavior.

No matter how skilled you are, no matter how much you're compensated, to be labor is to be the disposable, exploitable end of these modern relations of production. To management, to the owner (whether an individual or a corporation owned by institutions owned by faceless stakeholders) you are but labor-power.

Your body, your self, your individual knitted from human fabric is a liability. If they could chop your labor-power from your flesh, from your family, from your community, and expropriate it as their own, the owners would. The labor market is not a market for human beings, it is a market for working bodies. Bodies that don't work profitably are bad bodies.

All the worry that people like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking have over strong AI is misplaced. In the rule-of-profit era, algorithms running with disregard to humanity are already in charge, not executing AI software on a compute cluster, but on a platform of corporate policy executed on a hybrid of components consisting of people and machines.

I guess people are downvoting you because they disagree but unfortunately, this is sadly the world we live in. Without external factors to counter-balance all of this, massive companies have a massive power and can almost do what they want.

"If they could chop your labor-power from your flesh, from your family, from your community, and expropriate it as their own, the owners would."

That sounds like "My work gets done while I stay home with my family and community," and that would be awesome.

It's the dream that makes me get up and go write code every day!

They won't pay you for it.

Remember, states like England passed laws expropriating land titles from yeomen in order to put it into the hands of bourgeois property holders.

If they could take your labor, they would and if they could take it without paying you, they would. They have. They will.

They don't need to pay me for it. If they've taken it without diminishing me, they're free to go about their business and I'm free to spend time with my family, living off the bounty of a richer society.

(Your original description sounds an awful lot like the goal of open source, is what I'm saying. The infinite replicability and liquid scalability of software makes it hard to apply industrial-age metaphors to it ;) ).

Oh, I see what you're getting at. What I was getting at, though, is that you wouldn't live off of the bounty of that society. Only owners of capital get to live off the bounty of their capital. Everyone else has to sell themselves to capital. If they don't need you though, why would they bother? They would just throw you away.

Capitalism is a hell of a drug.

Or it could mean your brain gets leashed in such a way that you're not aware of your servitude all the while you don't get paid a dime for said servitude.

So are we just going to spout Marxist dogma, or do you have some idea for a solution? Preferably something that doesn't require a massive government apparatus and that doesn't infringe on the rights of every individual to make their own choices?

I think stronger worker protections for life's inevitable catastrophes in a manner similar to Germany would be great.

My own view is this:

The ideal would be to have a strong social safety net and a fair system of redistribution that operates with minimal micromanagement or intrusion into individual affairs.

Basically you have a government that taxes everyone according to the same rate and provides health care, unemployment and disability protection, insurance against certain emergencies (FEMA, etc.), and some sort of basic income. But as long as you pay into this system and are a 'shareholder' you can do whatever you want.

Employment should be at-will. Companies should be easy to start. Regulations should be minimal and justified by specific rationales (e.g. environmental protection).

The problem with the USSR and to a much lesser extent European Socialist countries is that they try to micro-manage. They have all these messes of laws that try to dictate exactly how things work and exactly how people must live their lives. That doesn't work. It just chokes everything and weighs everything down.

The irony is that all this micro-management is put into place because the obvious alternative -- just redistributing wealth -- is politically toxic. So instead of just redistributing wealth, we try to reach in and piecemeal adjust the operation of capitalism to make it 'more fair.' The end result is the worst of both worlds: the system remains unfair, and we end up with micromanaging regulations that are far more expensive than what it would cost to just redistribute wealth.

The US healthcare system is a great example. We have everything that is bad about micro-managing Socialism (heavy regulations, bureaucracy, inefficiency) combined with everything that is bad about capitalism/free market healthcare (inequality, losing coverage when you get sick, etc.).

No "system" is fair. All systems contain intrinsic biases, emergent behaviors, randomness, massive opportunities for cheating and exploitation, and unintentional/non-obvious "goal functions" that conflict with the stated intents of their designers or operators. Constructing a fair system through central planning is impossible... IMHO it is "perpetual motion" or "halting problem" impossible. Complex living systems are not logical and their behaviors cannot be pre-specified by an intelligent designer.

Wealth redistribution is the obvious answer. Instead of trying to impose the impossible on a chaotic counter-intuitive world, just apply noise reduction and normalization.

The insane thing is that what you're describing isn't even remarkable. Other capitalist countries have it. It's just the U.S. doesn't, and doesn't even want it.

I'm not sure about that. As far as I know European social democracies micromanage too much.

One thing none of these countries seem to get is that complex regulations and micromanagement are more expensive than taxation. These things have huge unintended costs, largely in time and in preventing innovation.

If we had free health care and basic income, who cares about at-will employment? If I lose my job, I'll just move on. You don't need all those regulations if you apply a "fairness correction" after the fact.

How about the East Asian Tigers? Or maybe Britain and the Anglosphere? I don't think they necessarily all micromanage at the same level as the Euros do.

Cry me a river about individual rights to bend over for the employer. I am ok with a huge government to protect me from having to compete with workaholics.

I am ok with a huge government to protect me from having to compete with workaholics.

Cry me a river about competing with people with a greater work ethic. I'm not OK with government doing anything that involves initiation of force to achieve political ends.

"greater work ethic" meaning "performs well in this system of labor relations". It is a circular moral judgment.

The status quo is maintained by force. The government you have distrust for is the thing that keeps everything from breaking down.

"greater work ethic" meaning "performs well in this system of labor relations". It is a circular moral judgment.

There will always be people who want more, work more, work harder, strive harder, and are more ambitious. That has nothing at all to do with "this system of labor relations".

The government you have distrust for is the thing that keeps everything from breaking down.

Feh... I mistrust the government because they're the main reason things are so broken now. The only "government" I want is self-government and whatever voluntary associations people form that don't claim a right to use force for any cause other than defense.

I think you're confusing proper legal protections against exploitation of workers for Marxism. You can have a free market and still protect workers.

No one in their right mind is expecting the means of production to be collectivized into a bureaucratic mess (considering how many corporations are practically Stalinist dystopias in their own right).

Geeze, someone's salty. I didn't spout Marxist dogma. I used a term coined by Marx. I used it because it's a useful term. It makes utterable the abstraction that is the labor relation. I actually reject the part of Marx that is dogma. Marx was wrong in many ways. He predicted his revolutions wrong. His descendants were as authoritarian and capitalist as the bourgeoisie; the only changes they made were to give all property to the state and put its control in the hands of bureaucrats. Really, bourgeois property holders do the same thing: That's what management is. So, the only difference between the two is the number of owners: many or one. Why are states that claim to be communist in the tradition of Marx, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao so oppressive? Because people will revolt against a ruler that is bad to them. A single property owner is an inflexible proposition. Being unyielding, the only way it can maintain its position is with a stick.

At least the bourgeois states have made their body politic agree at least at some level that it is fair to have a system of property where everyone, in legal principle, is capable of becoming a property owner. The promise that one can achieve economic security by accumulating capital through labor and becoming a property holder is the carrot. The police, military, and private security forces are the stick. It's easier to maintain order with a carrot and a stick than with just a stick.

Your criteria for a solution are exactly mine as well. I bet, though, we have very different ideas about what an individual is or what it means for them to make their own choices.

On government: I cannot say anything about the presence or absence of large governments. It's possible that large scale coordination of human beings requires large scale structures. Capitalism has large scale structures of its own. Markets, financial institutions, national and supranational bodies of law and force, political parties, and who knows what else that slips my mind are all massive apparatuses of power and coordination. Does capitalism not require large government bodies? There are many people who believe invasive governments with their heavy-handed economic policies are a perversion of capitalism. I'm not such an idealist. Capitalism has been unstable since its early inception. It has come up with many, many tricks to keep itself afloat. Laissez-faire failed. What we have now, what many people call neoliberalism, is its latest incarnation. I believe people who believe in bourgeois ideologies and relations of property will be ever creative in coming up with new principles, instititions, policies and markets to keep the system afloat. Call it the efficient government hypothesis: The government is as big as it needs to be for the system to be stable.

On the individual: I emphatically reject many fundamental liberal principles about the self. I am not an atom. I do not exist apart from my social relations. All of my relations are integral to my being. If you poked a hole in the social fabric where I am, I believe that you could reconstruct a large part of my being simply from the information of which fibers criss-crossed to stitch me together. An ideology that treats me as an atom that makes decisions for its own sake while ignoring how essentially mixed up I am with other individuals is barren to me. It does not tell me how to be happy, how to live a good life, how to be prosperous, how to be productive. My prosperity is fundamentally tied up with the prosperity of others. My productivity is nil without the productivity of others (I am a programmer, a profession extremely reliant on everyone else's work). Property is a relation between atomic individuals. Exchange is a social relation between atomic individuals. I am neither. I don't think anyone is. The failure of property and exchange to capture human relations makes the system unstable. It is an abstraction, and a leaky abstraction. Everyone knows what happens when you stick to abstractions that leak. You get into a lot of trouble.

I am perfectly capable of cooperating in good faith with my fellow human beings. I extend that good faith to everyone else: I believe everyone else wants to live in harmony with each other. If I didn't believe this, I would have to accept that society must be structured by force and that some must dominate the others. I cannot accept this. If must be an optimist, I will be an optimist. It's not hard, though. People are good, or the makings of the good. My liberty and my prosperity are in good hands.

On property and individual freedom: An individual tautologically, in a very weak sense, always makes their own decisions. It may be that their choices are strongly shaped by material conditions. When we talk about liberty in the bourgeois sense, we tend to think about making individual choices in the absence of violence.

The problem with this is that you have attached a word to what is impermissible: Violence. It is a symbol, it is an abstraction. It is not reality. Power does not care about symbols, abstractions, or ideas. It only answers to reality. If a human being gives him or herself to an idea, they relinquish the ability to perceive reality outside of that abstraction and they become vulnerable to those who would manipulate that idea. I might not be very clear right now. It's a hard concept to pin down. What I mean to say is:

If you believe that unjustified violence violates individual freedom, then those who seek to curtail your freedom will use their power to frame their actions that harm you as non-violent, or that it is justified violence.

Hence propaganda and the manipulation of social customs.

We are led to believe that being brought into this world helpless and dependent on others without our consent, and then being raised and inculcated in the way the human machine works, and then left to fend for ourselves in a reality where our fellow human beings will let us fall into the flames of despair and poverty below is a non-violent social situation.

Individual choice, my ass. If one wanted me to act on my own choices, they would give me the security so that I could. Instead, I have to give up my individual initiative and ability to make choices to someone else in exchange for the means to survive. Individual freedom in our current system is a function of how much capital you own. That's not freedom. Calling this freedom is ideological propaganda. Everyone knows freedom is good, let's call our hierarchical society of domination free.

If society believes in individual freedom, then society ought to provide for all individuals. Would this work? If one believes in individual freedom, it must be because one believes that individuals will act for the greater good, because the good of society is the good of the individual. Anyone who thinks individuals will behave selfishly and destroy such a society does not believe in freedom. They believe that only a few should be free, and everyone should be ruled by them in some way. Hence, our current economic relations.

The right to dictate another person's actions is not freedom. It is tyranny.

If one wanted me to act on my own choices, they would give me the security so that I could.

I don't think anyone who takes the idea of individual freedom seriously, has ever contended that every individual should have the ability to make (or at least act on) any conceivable choice. That is, right this minute, I could make a choice to pack my bags, fly to Sweden, and spend a year chasing Swedish super-models. But I can't actually afford to do that. But that in no way means I'm not free, it just means that there are some choices that aren't available to me. But nobody is putting a gun to my head telling me "You can't go to Sweden". More to the point, I'm perfectly free to continue working at my "wage slave" job for the next year, eat Ramen noodles and spend as little as possible, and save every penny so that - next year - I can take my trip to Sweden.

If society believes in individual freedom, then society ought to provide for all individuals.

That's absurd and contradictory. As soon as you say "society should do X" you are talking about depriving someone of their choice to not do X, unless you believe that you can get 100% unanimous agreement with you idea. And when does that ever happen on a large scale?

The right to dictate another person's actions is not freedom. It is tyranny.

Yes, and another word for it is "government".

Are we only allowed to spew Capitalist propaganda and worship Adam Smith and Friedman here?

Of course not, but spewing tired Marxist rhetoric without offering an actual proposal isn't accomplishing much.

I totally understand and sympathize with her viewpoint, even though it differs from my own, because much of this reads like someone who was kicked out of Scientology but still thinks the Church of Scientology is full of brilliant people making the world a better place-- that adoration for how great a company Amazon is, that comes thru in this piece, is the exact same flavor that the company cult works to reinforce, much the way the scientology cult does.

Yes, as someone who has dated a member of the church of scientology, and had a good friend get married there, then divorced when they discovered her husbands great grandfather worked for the IRS, and then re-married in a scientology arranged wedding, and seen the consequent personality changes and manipulations, .... and as someone who worked for Amazon for three years... I feel quite comfortable comparing Amazon to the Church of Scientology.

The funny thing is, this article reminds me of something I didn't notice. Things really were different in the way women were treated. There's definitely a bit of male chauvinism going on, and also women were treated better at amazon, probably because they were seen as more helpless and delicate. They certainly got less abuse in my group than the men did.

This is the lesson to take away-- the really dangerous thing is not just that Amazon is often a hostile and abusive workplace-- you can find that anywhere, and you can find pockets of decency in Amazon as well.

The lesson to learn is-- and this is leaking out about Amazon over and over-- that Amazon is a cult.

Her comment about the PIP being obviously a way to move out out-- shows that the actions (the PIP) have the opposite intended purpose to what they are supposed to. If an employee messes up (eg: goes thru a divorce and their work suffers) then they should be helped to improve.

That PIP is obvious code for "we're giving this person the ax and we're only keeping them around to cover our asses legally" shows that the company is manipulative and deceitful. -- If a firing was legitimate, they wouldn't need to lie with the PIP. If PIPs were used for their intended purpose, people wouldn't know that it was time to resign.

This kind of mantra heavy, "culture" heavy, ideological heavy, deceitful attitudes from a company are, in my experience, clear signs the company is very much like a cult.

I saw it in Scientology, at Amazon and at another company I worked for (also terrible)... but none of this existed at the other 20+ companies I've worked for in my career.

As a shameless plug, where I work (Moz), offers 3 months of paid paternity/maternity leave.

I'm always learning, always growing and it's a great place to work.


how does this have 420 points after 8 hours...yet is on the 4th page?



I read working at Amazon gave me a baby and cancer

This is pretty horrendous--at the same time, I'm a little puzzled: if you are gone for almost half a year and you're in a leadership position, is it that surprising the company will route around you?


I guess what I'm asking is: how do we square "hey, workers need to be able to take family leave for potentially long periods of time" with "this team needs a leader"? It's a tricky question, and the shittiest answer is "oh, well, you can work from home! XD".

You need people who can cover in leadership positions - this happens all the time, how do you handle a leader going on a 3-week vacation to Bali?

Obviously, longer term absences are qualitatively different, but again not insurmountable.

More importantly though is that not only had someone else taken over her position permanently, but she was put on a PIP. A PIP is usually reserved for extremely poor performers who are on the razor's edge of termination, not an otherwise good performer who just returned from an extended absence.

But of course I know multiple people at Amazon who had PIPs used against them politically - a PIP is an employment lawsuit mitigation strategy, even though it's a "Performance Improvement Plan" there is never an actual intention to follow through, it's always the precursor to firing.

Her team being taken away from her because she went on maternity leave is extremely shitty. Her being put on a PIP immediately after returning is what takes this from "shitty" to "heinous".

> But of course I know multiple people at Amazon who had PIPs used against them politically - a PIP is an employment lawsuit mitigation strategy, even though it's a "Performance Improvement Plan" there is never an actual intention to follow through, it's always the precursor to firing.

I understand that it's less about providing evidence to sink lawsuits (so many PIPs don't hold up to legal scrutiny: it actually opens less liability for a company to say "we're firing you because we don't like you" than it is for them to issue a PIP) as it is about demoralizing the employee and making them feel like terrible people, so they feel like them getting railroaded because of office politics is their fault, a) so they don't want to file a lawsuit and b) so vengeful managers can dig the knife in a little deeper and humiliate their victim.

Honestly, the best thing to do when given a PIP is to immediately start sending your resume out and calling any contacts that might lead to a new job. If you have enough of a nest egg to afford to be unemployed while you're looking for your next job, go ahead and put your two weeks' notice in the day you get the PIP.

> there is never an actual intention to follow through, it's always the precursor to firing.

No, it's not. I've had employees on PIPs that are here years later with no problems.

Individual contributors, sure. I've never seen someone in a leadership position who had their staff suddenly stripped away and put on a PIP for not delivering make it through without some "divine" intervention.

Not to mention PIPs-out-of-nowhere IMO always represent a decision that has already been made, and the PIP is just the follow-through.

If this is genuinely a case where your manager has repeatedly told you about your poor performance, and is now going official with a PIP, then yeah, probably recoverable if you get your head screwed on right and do a great job.

But a PIP that hits you out of left field unexpectedly is pretty much always a political maneuver, and represents a decision to fire you that has already been made.

It depends on whether the company's attitude is begrudging or not. If not, there are plenty of straightforward processes that can go in place.

- First is, where possible, you get the replacement in on a defined temporary cover contract, and do a proper handover of duties to them.

- Second, you offer the person on leave paid "Keep in Touch" days that allow the person to stay abreast of what's happening.

- Thirdly, when they return you have a formal hand-back session that brings the person up to speed and makes it clear to all their contacts that they have returned to their responsibilities and taken back over their old position.

I have seen this work correctly and smoothly multiple times, for both maternity and long-term sick leave. It doesn't involve pretending that they are still in post while they are out, but it involves the company being willing to pay more than lip service to supporting them during a period of long absence.

a defined temporary cover contract

Thanks for this! Could you elaborate on how this works? It's rather new to me.

It's essentially a contract that says you will be employed during the period of a given person's maternity leave, however long that may be. When they return to work, your contract expires. Here (UK) there are provisions in employment law that allow you to be dismissed because the person you're covering for has returned. Some details: http://www.personneltoday.com/hr/arranging-cover-maternity-l...

Thank you for explaining this. When you work for a while for places that have no concept of what you just explained it's easy to believe there's just nothing you can do when an employee has to take an some extended time off.

Routing around would happen. But putting her on the Performance Improvement Plan was inhuman.

She probably would have won the lawsuit had she sued.

On what grounds could she have sued?

Regardless of how the absence is handled, having the returning leader managing 1 person instead of the team they previously managed and then putting them on a performance improvement plan sounds a lot like constructive dismissal [0]. This is of course going off only one side of the story.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constructive_dismissal

It's a problem that is pretty easily solved. You appoint an interim leader. Look for someone on the team to step up a bit to assist the substitute.

I had back surgery a decade ago that kept me out of the office for two months. I managed about 30 people at the time in 4-5 groups. My director and his admin took on the administrative stuff, and one of the team leads took over the day to day. I was able to do a call about every other week to go over project items.

I came back, and things went back to normal, the positive benefit is that a couple of previously unrecognized employees got director-level recognition.

Another solution is labor union.

I love how Americans think these are big bad problems that can't be solved. So myopic!

Every other developed country has these policies and importantly they have the work culture to deal with it. People leave for a year on maternity and come back just fine, because people know that's how it's supposed to work.

I guess one solution is that Amazon hires a separate leader, and then puts the other employee up in a separate position.

Ultimately, the employer will have to take a bit of a hit if we want employees to have more secure lives.

The solution is obvious: You hire men and people who don't get sick.

I think the shocker was they put her on a "performance improvement plan" -- that's basically probation.

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