US magazine suffers virtual walk-out after CEO questions telework
CEO Cathy Merrill of The Washingtonian (Screen Grab)

Writers at a US magazine stopped work Friday after the company's chief executive penned an essay in the Washington Post suggesting "risks" to their job status if they did not return to the office.

The move came after Washingtonian CEO Cathy Merrill questioned the work status of remote employees in one of the country's biggest newspapers.

"If the employee is rarely around... management has a strong incentive to change their status to 'contractor,'" Merrill wrote.

"As a CEO, I want my employees to understand the risks of not returning to work in the office."

Merrill later apologized, sending a memo saying "there will be no changes to benefits or employee status," but not before an outcry from the staff.

"As members of the Washingtonian editorial staff, we want our CEO to understand the risks of not valuing our labor," senior editor Andrew Beaujon and other staff members tweeted in unison.

"We are dismayed by Cathy Merrill's public threat to our livelihoods. We will not be publishing today."

The incident marks the latest dust-up over companies moving to bring employees back to the office after a year or more of remote work during the pandemic.

Some firms such as Twitter have allowed employees to work remotely indefinitely, while others such as Microsoft are moving toward a hybrid model of remote and office work.

Merill's comments struck a chord because it suggested employees could be classified as contractors, potentially losing health insurance and other benefits.

Merill wrote that she was "concerned about the unfortunately common office worker who wants to continue working at home and just go into the office on occasion," saying this could erode workplace culture.

She said that continued remote work will take away "the casual meetings that take place during the workday... Decisions will be made. Maybe if you are at home you'll be Zoomed in, but probably not. "

© 2021 AFP