Employer-Tied Health Care Is Also a Tech Accountability Issue
Can you afford to speak up if losing your job also means losing access to physical and mental health services?
Last year, I blew the whistle on race and gender discrimination I experienced at Pinterest. My story and that of my former colleague Aerica Shimizu Banks has so far led to a shareholder lawsuit and a moment of reckoning for a company that for so long held itself up as the positive corner of the tech industry.
But what few people may realize is that if I had dependents, like a child or spouse, I might never have told this story — all because of the cost of health insurance.
Whenever I see a story of another tech worker pushed out of a job for exposing their employer’s egregious and often illegal behavior, I take a look at what day of the month it is and wonder what they’ll do about health care next month — in the midst of a pandemic, no less.
Since leaving Pinterest in May 2020, I have paid $884 a month for COBRA ($895 as of January) to keep access to my therapist, the physical health services that I need, as well as insurance that could become necessary at any time in the event of an emergency, like the rare cancer that claimed my mother’s life before she turned 50. At a time when I was considering the career costs of speaking up against a multibillion-dollar corporation, I had to literally calculate whether I could pay to advocate for myself and still cover my physical and mental health needs. That calculus has and will continue to keep many people working within the industry silent when their potential disclosures on worker abuses and violations against consumers are in the public interest.
“Tech accountability” is currently a popular call — whether it be from government, civil society, media, or inside the industry itself — but what does it mean if related efforts are not centered on the rights and protections of those workers within the tech industry? Real reform will only come from the combined efforts of workers, external advocates, and regulators. For workers to be able to disclose information that can be used to demand and ensure accountability, there must be a basic level of safety in place, and there’s nothing more basic than…