The CEO of Washingtonian on Friday morning apologized to the magazine’s staffers for a Washington Post op-ed in which she appeared to threaten her employees’ job status should they not return full-time to the office upon reopening.
In a Thursday afternoon Post op-ed, originally headlined “As a CEO, I want my employees to understand the risks of not returning to work in the office,” Washingtonian CEO Cathy Merrill argued that in-person workers are likely to be treated more favorably than those who chose to continue working remotely.
“If the employee is rarely around... management has a strong incentive to change their status to ‘contractor,’” she wrote at one point, elsewhere adding that “although there might be some pains and anxiety going back into 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.”
The opinion column immediately sparked outrage online and within the magazine, where staffers on Friday morning announced they would halt publishing for a day in protest of what they perceived as Merrill’s threats to the professional status of the magazine’s remote workers.
Many staffers, including senior editors like Andrew Beaujon and Ann Limpert, tweeted in unison a statement reading: “As members of the Washingtonian editorial staff, we want our CEO to understand the risks of not valuing our labor. We are dismayed by Cathy Merrill’s public threat to our livelihoods. We will not be publishing today.”
The Post eventually edited the headline, which now reads: “As a CEO, I worry about the erosion of office culture with more remote work.” And in a statement shared with The Daily Beast, Merrill seemed to backtrack on her opinion piece, saying that she had informed staff that she does not plan on firing any remote workers or changing the status of any full-time employees.
“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,” she said.
And in an email sent to staff Friday morning, Merrill apologized, saying she would not change “any of our healthcare or 401k offerings” or move any full-time staff to freelancer status, claiming her column’s intent was simply to convey how worried she and other CEOs were about “preserving the cultures we built up in our offices.”
But she did note that she was concerned about how remote work would hurt workplace culture.
“I do worry about larger, less personal businesses and how that may affect our country. That is precisely why I wrote the piece,” she added in the memo. “Of course, when we come back to the office, we will do so in a measured, safe, well-thought-out way that complies the best scientific advice—both because that’s the law, and because I care deeply about every person who makes up Washingtonian. And, just as we’ve been a flexible office since long before COVID, we will make accommodations for staff who need them for as long as the pandemic lasts.”