Tech Transformers

Tech firms are giving staff paid leave for political engagements amid fear of immigration crackdown

Technology start-up Polaroid Swing launched a policy on Tuesday allowing its employees to take paid time off work for political engagements such as protests or running for political office, co-founder Tommy Stadlen told CNBC.

Stadlen is British and started the company in San Francisco. He said that over half of the 12-strong team are immigrants and his decision to introduce the policy was driven in part by the increasingly anti-immigration rhetoric coming from countries such as the U.S. and U.K.

"There is a feeling that shared values of equality and openness are at stake across the world at the moment," Stadlen told CNBC in a phone interview on Tuesday.

"We don't want people to leave those thoughts behind when they get to work and we wanted to make it more than ok to help people get involved in politics or in their communities."

Polaroid Swing's policy comes as President Donald Trump is expected to sign an executive order to look into the popular H-1B visa program and how they are issued. H-1B visas allow employers to temporarily hire skilled foreign workers in certain positions.

Many technology companies rely on this program to recruit top talent. In the U.S., more than 15 percent of Facebook's employees in 2016 used a temporary work visa, according to a Reuters analysis of U.S. Labor Department filings.

Polaroid Swing Founders, Frederick Blackford and Tommy Stadlen
Deborah Findling | CNBC

And the U.K. is also looking into new immigration rules following the Brexit vote last year, something that has concerned many businesses in the country.

Polaroid Swing's policy gives its employees a week of paid civic engagement so they can go and protest, write letters or get involved in politics in some way. For Stadlen, immigration has been key for the start-up.

"Myself and my co-founder are British and we wouldn't have been able to start this company if it wasn't for open immigration in the U.S," Stadlen said.

"There is huge value at stake for tech companies. Britain for example needs a strong tech sector and closing immigration down is going to negatively affect that."

So far, a few people have taken time off, Stadlen said though the policy was officially announced on Tuesday.

Such a policy isn't widespread yet across the tech world, though some companies have enacted similar rules. Jelly, a start-up co-founded by Biz Stone, who is also a co-founder of Twitter, launched paid time off for civic engagement in February. And database start-up Fauna also launched a similar policy in February. Other technology companies offering paid leave for political engagements include Buoyant, Turbine Labs, Atipica and Vicarious.

Stadlen said other companies need to introduce this policy too.

"We are really urging other tech companies to do something similar, I think it will be great for engaging employees, it will help people create an environment where people can stand up," Stadlen told CNBC.

"You are seeing a backlash against tech from privacy, extremist content, gender inequality, tech needs to do something to regain trust and define our contribution to society a lot more clearly."