Microsoft has agreed to pay more than $21 million in compensation to workers who were allegedly discriminated against for taking parental, disability or pregnancy leave.

The settlement is the culmination of a multi-year investigation by the California Civil Rights Department into allegations of retaliation and discrimination against Microsoft workers who took protected forms of leave, in the form of lower bonuses and negative performance reviews.

As part of the agreed settlement, Microsoft has not admitted to any of these allegations and continues to deny them.

Protected leave covers the likes of parental, disability, pregnancy and family care-taking time-off.

The case alleged that Microsoft workers who took these forms of leave were then less likely to be eligible for merit pay increases and promotions, and that this disproportionately impacted women and employees with a disability.

As part of the settlement, Microsoft will pay $21 million ($US14.2 million) to employees who took protected leave from the company since May 2017, and $334,000 ($US225,000) to cover legal costs.

‘Safeguard against future discrimination’

Civil Rights Department director Kevin Kish said the agreement will help to prevent this form of discrimination occurring in the future.

“The settlement announced today will provide direct relief to impacted workers and safeguard against future discrimination at the company,” Kish said in a statement.

“We applaud Microsoft for coming to the table and agreeing to make the changes necessary to protect workers in California.”

The agreement, if accepted by the court, will also require Microsoft to employ an independent consultant to make recommendations regarding the company’s personnel policies and practices to make sure that time on protected leave is not considered when it comes to determining rewards and promotions.

The tech giant will also have to report its compliance with the settlement annually and ensure its managers and human resources staff are trained over the prohibitions on discrimination based on the taking of protected leave.

“Whether it’s looking after a newborn child or taking care of your own health, workers generally have the right to take time off without worrying about consequences at work,” Kish said.

“By allegedly penalising employees for taking protected forms of leave, Microsoft failed to support workers when they needed to care for themselves or their families.”

In a statement, Microsoft said the allegations made by the Civil Rights Department are untrue, but that the company will “continue to listen, learn and support [its] employees”.

Discrimination in tech

In Australia, the gender pay gap is still stubbornly high in the tech industry.

Figures released earlier this year showed that the overall gender pay gap in terms of salary is 14.5 per cent, and this number increases to 19 per cent when full remuneration is considered.

The gender pay gap was above average in both of the sectors covering the tech industry.

A recent survey also found that many women in tech are considering walking away from the industry entirely.

The study found that the impact of experiencing negative bias, burnout and a lack of leadership led to 46 per cent of women surveyed considering leaving the tech sector, and 33 per cent thinking about reducing their hours.