Washingtonian CEO’s Back-to-Office Essay Sparks Employee Protest

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Journalists at the Washingtonian are refusing to publish articles in protest after the magazine’s CEO suggested employees who don’t regularly return to the office as the pandemic wanes could be classified as contractors or eventually dismissed.

In an essay published Thursday in the Washington Post, Cathy Merrill, chief executive officer of Washingtonian Media, said she was concerned about “the unfortunately common office worker who wants to continue working at home and just go into the office on occasion.”

Merrill said that such a worker “presents executives with a tempting economic option the employees might not like.” If employees are rarely in the office, she said, “management has a strong incentive to change their status to ‘contractor.’”

Instead of receiving a set salary, she noted, contractors are often paid only for the work they do -- and management wouldn’t need to pay for their health care, a 401(k) match and other benefits.

Merrill added that in returning regularly to the office, “the biggest benefit for workers may be simple job security. Remember something every manager knows: The hardest people to let go are the ones you know.”

In response, several employees of the magazine posted coordinated tweets saying they wouldn’t publish articles Friday, in protest of Merrill’s essay.

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

Many companies are wrestling with how to bring workers back to the office safely as vaccinations spread. There’s also debate over how often employees need to be in the office after a year in which many proved they can be productive at home.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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