Kyte Baby under fire after employee denied remote work request while her infant was in NICU

Popular baby clothing brand Kyte Baby is facing backlash after an employee’s request to work remotely while her newborn was in the NICU was denied.

The employee made the request because her newborn, whom she adopted, was in the neonatal intensive care unit at a Texas hospital, according to two apology videos made by Kyte Baby founder Ying Liu.

In her apology video, Liu said she said no — and now regrets her decision.

The employee, named Marissa, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. She has been identified, but TODAY.com is withholding her last name to protect her privacy.

As customers vow to boycott, Kyte Baby said in a statement the employee “declined” its offer to return to the company, which sells infant clothing and sleep sacks made with bamboo material.

Controversy and apologies

“Hey guys, it’s Ying. I wanted to hop on here to sincerely apologize to Marissa for how her parental leave was communicated and handled in the midst of her incredible journey of adoption and starting a family,” Liu said in a video with 2 million views that was posted to Kyte Baby’s official TikTok account Thursday. “I have been trying to reach out to her to apologize directly as well.”

Kyte Baby CEO Ying Liu.@kytebaby via TikTok

Liu explained that Kyte Baby “prides itself on being a family oriented company” that treats “biological and non-biological parents equally.”

Liu apologized to her customers, promising to review Kyte’s HR policies to “avoid hurting our staff and our community in the future.”

The speech got harsh reviews on TikTok, where people said Liu sounded rehearsed and inauthentic. Dozens of moms made videos saying they were once loyal Kyte customers, but would now boycott the company.

Liu then posted a second apology later that same day, saying that her first attempt “wasn’t sincere.”

“OK, I’m going to do this,” Liu said in the second apology, which has topped 4 million views. “So, I just posted an official apology on TikTok. And the comments were right — it was scripted. I memorized it. I basically just read it, it wasn’t sincere and I’ve decided to go off-script.”

Liu said she was the one who made the “terrible” decision about Marissa’s request.

“I was insensitive, selfish and was only focused on the fact that her job had always been done on-site and I did not see the possibility of doing it remotely,” she said.

She added: “I cannot imagine the stress she had to go through, not having the option to go back to work and having to deal with a newborn in the NICU. So thinking back, it really was a terrible mistake. I own 100% of that.”

Liu acknowledged the perception that she is now “saving face.”

“As a mom, as a female owner of the business — and especially a baby business — I feel like I need to set the record straight: That I fully realize the impact of my actions … I did not accommodate Marissa fully and did not even reach out to her personally, didn’t even talk to her at all about what happened to her until today,” she said, and apologized.

A Kyte Baby spokesperson said in a statement that the company continues to apologize to Marissa and will grant her remote request.

“At this time Marissa has declined our offer,” the spokesperson said Friday.

Mothers and remote work

In a 2021 company blog post honoring International Women’s Day, Liu praised her employees, many of whom are mothers, and the benefits of remote work.

“I have no problem with my employees being home and working while taking care of their kids,” Liu said. “Why should they come back to the office five days a week when they’re still very productive and can perform? … Women are amazing. I hope this will bring the status of female employees higher because all this has proved that they don’t need to be at the office 8 hours a day. They’re still able to be productive and take care of their families.”

A spokesperson from Kyte Baby said the company is revising its maternity policy, which it said at the time provided two weeks of paid maternity leave to all parents who have worked for the company for at least six months.

“As part of this agreement, they were required to sign a contract stating that they would return to their job for a minimum of six months after their paid leave was complete. Employees who were with the company for over one year received four weeks of paid maternity time with the same six-month requirement,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

Marissa worked in the company’s photography studio for “a little over seven months,” according to the statement.

The spokesperson said Marissa was offered the standard two-week package, “but given her son’s situation, was unable to sign the six-month contract. She did propose a remote option for her job, but given that her role was largely on-site, at that time, we did not feel that the proposed plan would fulfill the responsibilities of her current position. We told her we understood her situation and informed her that her job would be here if and when she opted to return.”

The spokesperson said that the company now realizes that it “should have taken more steps to accommodate her situation” and that “Kyte Baby needs to stand by our values of being a woman-owned, family company.”

Kyte Baby said it will share its revised maternity policy by Feb. 1.

According to Jamie Ladge, a professor and group chair of management and organizational development at Northeastern University, the backlash to Kyte Baby reflects frustration among working parents.

“Parents are generally fed up — we’ve been talking about paid family leave for years and it never seems to happen,” she tells TODAY.com. “Men and women often feel like a burden for taking leave or fear being seen as non-committed to their jobs.”

Meanwhile, the childcare shortage in the pandemic only emphasized the need for remote work.

“Nothing got resolved,” Ladge said. “We’re still in crisis mode.” 

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