Why Are Parents Boycotting Kyte Baby Sleep Gear? Behind the Company’s Controversial Comments

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It’s probably not the start of the year that Kyte Baby expected when they envisioned 2024. The bamboo baby apparel company has found themselves facing a lot of backlash after recent TikTok videos revealed that one of their employees was denied the ability to work remotely, as her recently adopted premature baby was in the NICU.

In a series of apology videos on TikTok, Kyte Baby founder Ying Liu acknowledged that she had denied her employee Marissa Hughes’ request to complete her work remotely while she was in the hospital nine hours away with her 22-week old son, Judah — something Liu acknowledges was a grave mistake on her end. In a recent exclusive interview with TODAY.com, Marissa shared that she and her husband had suffered through infertility treatments and miscarriages through the years and had been open with Liu about their journey through adoption (1). When they had received word that Judah had been born prematurely and was in the NICU, Marissa says she worked to keep her managers, Liu and the company informed, even establishing a remote work schedule.

“We set up my entire schedule hour-by-hour and even set check-in dates going forward.” Marissa said in the Today interview, “I was under the impression we were creating a new schedule based on what had already been discussed and approved.”

Eight hours after the schedule was established, Marissa says her remote request was denied and ultimately, she was fired.

“I was told, ‘Hey, unfortunately, we won’t be able to (make this arrangement) and for that reason, we will take this as your resignation,'” Marissa continued in the interview. “This isn’t what I wanted.”

Unfortunately, Marissa’s situation isn’t new and leaves new parents (and parents, in general) feeling frustrated.

Protected Family Leave in the United States

Her struggle is part of the ongoing ramping up conversation around maternity leave progress, family leave, and even NICU leave. 

“The CEO was really foolish and ultimately disrespectful of the needs of not just her employee, but her customer,” says Lauren Smith Brody, author, CEO of The Fifth Trimester, a gender equality consulting firm, and co-founder of the Chamber of Mothers, a nonpartisan nonprofit focused on public policy for moms. “That said, we all live in a country that has utterly normalized a bootstrapping mentality for new families — in large part because we have zero federally-protected maternity leave. There is no floor of support that is legally protected. So I also see how she could have been this out of touch. I do not excuse it. Not for a minute. But I can see how it happened.”

In the United States, eligible employees receive parental leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This act requires that eligible employees receive 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave each year for the birth of a newborn child, adoption or foster care of a child, caring for immediate family members with serious health conditions, or if the employee is unable to work due to their own serious health condition. In order to be eligible for FMLA, employees must have worked the equivalent of 12 months or 1,250 hours for the employer. In the event of pregnancy complications that cause employees to miss work, the hours missed can be counted against the 12 weeks allotted in FMLA.

But Hughes wasn’t eligible for FMLA because she had worked for Kyte Baby as an on-site employee for seven months. In a statement Baby Kyte shared with multiple news outlets, they said, “Based on our maternity policy at the time, all parents, whether biological or non-biological, who worked for the company for at least six months, received two weeks of paid maternity time. 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.”

What Can U.S. Employees Do?

Knowing the laws and loopholes can help as the country’s policies catch up with what parents need.

It’s vitally important, especially absent federal paid leave, that workers know and understand what rights they have that are protected by law,” says Smith Brody. “No, this mom didn’t technically qualify for leave. But she might have been able to ask for a health accommodation for herself for her own mental health, and Kyte would have had to engage with her in a conversation of reasonable accommodations.”

For many social media users, situations like this reinstate their own fears and experiences.

“It’s sad that better rules aren’t implemented in the country,” said one user on TikTok in response to Kyte Baby’s apology. “I work for a doctors office and if this happened to me I would have to take unpaid FMLA followed up by unpaid 6 weeks maternity leave. I would be curious to hear from other baby brand companies’ employees and what their policy is.”

An Instagram user commented in response to Liu’s second apology, “I am a micro preemie momma to a little lady who spent 87 days in the hospital. Absolutely disgusting! Her initial apology was not sincere or real and she’s only apologizing because she’s losing customers. Shop elsewhere! I don’t get involved in many things but this is something I lived through and am SO passionate about. Being a preemie mom is HARD. And the NICU life is the worst. Thankful we made it out. But it was traumatic.”

Advice For Employers

While employers don’t have control over eligibility requirements for FMLA, there are options when it comes to formulating their own family leave policies within their companies, and for Smith Brody, it’s important that companies remember to do the right thing–not just for their company but their employees as well.

“The world is watching,” says Lauren Smith Brody, CEO, author, and co-founder of the Chamber of Mothers, a nonpartisan nonprofit that advocates for better social policies for mothers. “If you’re short-sighted and deny workers the benefits and culture they need, it may well cost you far, far more. In the simplest terms, even without a press controversy involved, attrition costs 6-9 months of a typical worker’s salary. Do the math. Paid leave pays off. The ROI on support for caregivers at work is real.”

And parents agree.

“As a mom AND owner of the company, she should have taken a step back & put herself in Marissa’s shoes, think more compassionately as a human and not as a corporate chair,” says one TikTok user. “You know what predicament she was in and you know what your company stands for. There were MANY other options to look at before jumping the gun and making such a rash, hurtful, damaging decision. I’m sure there were a handful of other employees that could have taken on more responsibilities to help out.”

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  • 1. Solé, Elise. “Exclusive: The new mom at the center of the Kyte Baby controversy speaks out,” Today.com; https://www.today.com/parents/babies/marissa-kyte-baby-speaks-out-rcna134900; January 22, 2024.

  • Smith Brody, Lauren. Author interview. January 2024.

Alexandra Frost

Alexandra Frost

Alexandra Frost is a Cincinnati-based freelance journalist, content marketing writer, copywriter, and editor focusing on health and wellness, parenting, real estate, business, education, and lifestyle. Away from the keyboard, Alex is also mom to her four sons under age 7, who keep things chaotic, fun, and interesting. For over a decade she has been helping publications and companies connect with readers and bring high-quality information and research to them in a relatable voice.  She has been published in the Washington Post, Huffington Post, Glamour, Shape, Today's Parent, Reader's Digest, Parents, Women's Health, and Insider.

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