Bethesda employees won’t receive Microsoft assistance for abortion-related travel care

A report from Kotaku is signaling that ZeniMax employees across its many American studios are growing frustrated with what appears to be a sluggish and inadequate response from company leadership in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade.

While employee complaints run the gamut from a slow public response to tone-deaf comments in internal messaging, most egregious is an apparent lack of effort to promise medical benefits for employees who might need to travel to other states in need of an abortion. These benefits are especially necessary for the company’s Texas-area offices, which include Arkane Austin, the developers of Redfall.

After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last week, many publishers and studios promised employees that they would receive financial assistance if they needed to schedule medical travel. ZeniMax however, has only stated that it is trying to “have ongoing discussions with our U.S. healthcare provider about enhancing our benefits for those who may have to travel for medical services.” 

You might read that sentence and think “wait a minute, Microsoft was one of the companies that promised employee support for such travel, and Microsoft owns ZeniMax Media.” You would be correct. But an employee confirmed to Kotaku that ZeniMax employees are not receiving the same benefits as their colleagues at Microsoft, which apparently drove many employees to quit. 

ZeniMax’s lack of resolution for employees who might require travel support for reproductive care would look less egregious if an internal women’s employee resource group hadn’t previously sent a letter to company management asking it to provide support for people needing such travel.

The company’s only action (public or otherwise) was to release a tweet on the Bethesda Softworks account stating that “we believe the ability to make choices about one’s body and lifestyle is a human right.”

As Kotaku notes, “lifestyle” is a word that can be delegitimizing to LGBTQ people. This is a slight topic shift, but since the overturning of Roe v. Wade comes with threats to gay marriage, gay rights, and transgender rights, this attempt to speak to those communities appears to have boomeranged back around to say that a person’s sexuality or gender identity is a matter of choice.

Outcry from LGBTQ employees at ZeniMax about the use of the word “lifestyle” apparently led to an apology from chief operations officer Jamie Leder. Leder was also the executive who informed employees that it was still negotiating medical travel benefits for employees.

The new reality is setting in

Kotaku’s report also highlights an uncomfortable reality for many game developers: there are some in their ranks who support the overturning of Roe v. Wade. One employee “caused significant controversy” in the company’s Slack channel when he posted an eight-paragraph rant against abortion that contained eleven biblical quotes. 

Said employee added that “Human rights aren’t being violated in overturning Roe vs. Wade, they’re being restored for those who cannot speak for themselves.”

It’s again worth pointing out that a personal religious objection to abortion and the belief that such objection should extend to the law are two different stances. One is a religious preference, the other impacts the human and civil rights of people.

In the last month, multiple game developers have spoken about how permitting such attitudes in the workplace means they must work with people who are willing to verbally denigrate their rights and identities. 

The ripple effects of that attitude have wide-ranging implications. Last year, we spoke to developers who pointed out that such beliefs may directly overlap with a long tradition of sexual harassment and discrimination at video game companies. This takes on a new dark subtext in Texas, where the state’s anti-abortion law rewards individuals for filing lawsuits against those who seek out an abortion. 

It would seem those who warned of the law’s impact on marginalized groups in game development were right to be concerned.

We have reached out to Microsoft and ZeniMax for comment on this story, and will update it when each company responds.

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