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News / Business

Texas baby clothing company under fire for denying mom’s request to work from NICU

By Sarah Bahari, The Dallas Morning News
Published: January 26, 2024, 8:05am

The CEO of a popular Texas-based baby clothing company has issued two public apologies after denying a new mother’s request to work remotely while her baby is in neonatal intensive care.

Kyte Baby founder Ying Liu said on TikTok that she made a “terrible mistake” in how she handled the request by employee Marissa Hughes, who asked to work from the hospital to care for her newly adopted premature baby. As a result, Hughes said she was fired.

“I was insensitive, selfish, and only focused on the fact that her job had always been done on-site,” Liu, a mother of five, said in the video posted last week.

But the apology has done little to tamp outrage or calls for boycotts of the Euless-based company, which makes breathable bamboo clothing and baby sleep sacks. News of the firing and subsequent apologies quickly went viral, with numerous outlets, including CNN and The Washington Post, reporting on the debacle.

“This is nonsense,” Parents magazine wrote. “What Kyte Baby did is another example of how little support new parents have and why that really needs to change.”

According to a GoFundMe to help the couple with adoption costs, Hughes and her partner, Rawley, said they tried unsuccessfully for three years to have a baby, undergoing fertility treatments and suffering three miscarriages.

After deciding to pursue adoption, the couple received a call In December from an adoption agency about a baby born at 22 weeks in El Paso. “After extensive prayer and a lot of phone calls, we said yes to being his parents! We are so thrilled to have a son!” Hughes wrote on GoFundMe.

Weighing just 1 pound at birth, the baby must remain in neonatal intensive care until March, so Hughes asked to work remotely. Hughes, who worked in marketing at Kyte Baby, told Today.com that her managers initially agreed to her request but later called and fired her.

“It was never my intention to quit — I was willing to work from the NICU!” Hughes, 26, told Today.com. “I did tell them, ‘This is a slap in the face … My child is fighting for his life.’”

Under its policy at the time, Kyte Baby told the outlet that parents who worked for the company between six and 12 months receive two weeks’ maternity time and must sign a contract saying they will return to their job for six months after the paid leave ends. Employees of more than a year receive four weeks’ paid maternity time and must sign the same contract.

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act grants 12 weeks of leave to parents, both biological and adoptive, after the birth of a child, but it only applies to employees who have been with a company for one year. Hughes, who worked at Kyte Baby for seven months, had not worked long enough to qualify.

Kyte Baby is now reviewing its parental leave policy, Liu said, adding that the company needs “to set the example because we are in the baby business.”

The company also said it would pay Hughes benefits and grant her the request to work remotely, but she declined.

“While we really don’t think it would be appropriate for me to go back,” Hughes said in a video posted to social media, “we’re really encouraged to hear that there will be some changes made for current and future employees at the company.”