Employees strike after CEO's remote work op-ed

The action shows the 'risks of not valuing labour'

Employees strike after CEO's remote work op-ed

The editorial staff of a US magazine declared a temporary work stoppage to protest the views of their CEO against working from home, as published in an opinion piece. The article purportedly argued that employers could strip workers of certain privileges and instead classify them as contractors if they refused to return to working in a physical location.

Catherine Merrill, CEO of The Washingtonian’s parent company, has since apologised for her op-ed and clarified the company has no intention to change staff members’ employment status. “I could not be more proud of their work and achievements under the incredibly difficult circumstances of the past year. I have assured our team that there will be no changes to benefits or employee status. I am sorry if the op-ed made it appear like anything else,” Merrill told CBS MoneyWatch.

Read more: Remote work: Will it really kill productivity?

Reporters and editors announced they would be suspending production because they were “dismayed” by Merrill’s comments. Staffers took her views to be a “public threat to our livelihoods”.

“As members of the Washingtonian editorial staff, we want our CEO to understand the risks of not valuing our labour. We are dismayed by Cathy Merrill’s public threat to our livelihoods. We will not be publishing today.

Read more: Remote work: Leaders reveal key lessons from pandemic

In her article, Merrill said: “I am concerned about the unfortunately common office worker who wants to continue working at home and just go into the office on occasion.” This attitude towards remote work would purportedly cause staff members to miss out on face-to-face interactions, such as “helping a colleague, mentoring more junior people, celebrating someone’s birthday – things that drive office culture,” she said.

When dealing with employees who shun the office culture experience, companies supposedly have a “strong incentive” to “change their [employees’] status to ‘contractor,’” Merrill said. “Instead of receiving a set salary, contractors are paid only for the work they do, either hourly or by appropriate output metrics. That would also mean not having to pay for health care, a 401(k) match and our share of FICA and Medicare taxes – benefits that in my company’s case add up roughly to an extra 15% of compensation.”

An employment lawyer who spoke to CBS News, however, pointed out how placing a person in a contractor role will depend on the question of who owns the work – not where a person chooses to work.

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