TikTok is buzzing about a controversy surrounding the popular baby clothing brand Kyte Baby.
The company denied a new mom’s request to work remotely while she cared for her premature newborn in the NICU, according to two apology videos made by Kyte Baby founder Ying Liu. As customers vow to boycott, Kyte tells TODAY.com in a statement that the employee has “declined” their offer to return to the company.
Kyte Baby sells infant clothing and sleep sacks made with bamboo material.
An employee named Marissa asked if she could work remotely while her newborn, whom she adopted, was in the NICU at a Texas hospital: In her apology video, Liu said she said no — and now she regrets her decision.
Kyte Baby controversy, and the 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 two million views that was posted to Kyte Baby’s official TikTok account on Jan. 18. “I have been trying to reach out to her to apologize directly as well.”
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. “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 made a “terrible” decision about Marissa’s request.
“I was the one that made the decision to veto her request to go remote while she has to stay in the NICU to take care of her adopted baby,” said Liu. “And when I think back, this was a terrible decision —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 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.”
“I really want to take this opportunity to say that I’m sorry,” said Liu. “As for Marissa, she is a fantastic woman, she has the biggest heart and … I love her as a worker and enjoy working with her every day.”
Liu said the company would pay Marissa benefits and grant her a remote position that she requested.
That video topped four million views and has more than 119,000 comments, many along the lines of “Too little too late” and “RIP Kyte Baby.”
A spokesperson from Kyte Baby tells TODAY.com 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 on Jan. 19.
Moms 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.”
Marissa did not immediately return requests for comment from TODAY.com. While she has been identified, TODAY.com is withholding her last name to protect her privacy.
A spokesperson from Kyte Baby tells TODAY.com in a statement:
“We continue to apologize to both Marissa and our Kyte Baby community for how her maternity leave was handled … we are revising our maternity policy to give all new parents more time off and creating a process to better support our team.”
The statement read, “Marissa was an on-site employee for Kyte Baby who worked in our photography studio for a little over seven months. 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.”
The spokesperson tells TODAY.com that Marissa was offered the standard package (two weeks of maternity time), “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.
“However, upon reflection, we should have taken more steps to accommodate her situation,” the spokesperson wrote. “We’ve since realized that Kyte Baby needs to stand by our values of being a woman-owned, family company. We have reached out to Marissa directly and reiterated that her job is here if and when she is ready to come back. We have also offered to work with her to find a remote position within the company. At this time Marissa has declined our offer.”
Kyte Baby says it will share its revised maternity policy by February 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,” says Ladge. “We’re still in crisis mode.”
This story first appeared on TODAY.com. More from TODAY: