She said remote employees miss out on “extra” work she considered essential, like “celebrating someone’s birthday,” and she acknowledged it would be tempting to lay off employees who wish to work from home: “Remember something every manager knows: The hardest people to let go are the ones you know.”
Like workers all over the country, Washingtonian staffers have labored through an exhausting and unprecedented year, and are now pondering the implications of returning to the office during a pandemic that seems under control but not over. Andrew Beaujon, senior editor at the magazine, said he and his colleagues were stunned by their CEO’s essay.
“I think people felt like it was a kick in the teeth,” Beaujon told HuffPost. “We have a small staff. We have been working like hell to put out a monthly magazine and a daily website. To read that we’re going to be turned into independent contractors or laid off if we’re not at a birthday party, that’s really just very disappointing.”
“To read this, which really did come across as a threat to our jobs and our benefits, really felt like it was out of left field,” said another staffer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for self-evident reasons.
In a statement on the response to her piece, Merrill said she wanted to make clear that there would be “no changes to benefits or employment status.” She told HuffPost that she did not write the original headline and expressed to the Post that she believed it was “inaccurate.” (The Post’s new headline was more innocuous: “As a CEO, I worry about the erosion of office culture with more remote work.”)
Staffers at the magazine are carrying out the one-day work stoppage despite the fact that they are not represented by a union. A former editorial fellow at Washingtonian, Kalina Newman, said on Twitter that Merrill told her in their very first exchange that she “hates unions.” Newman, now a staffer at the AFL-CIO labor federation, told HuffPost that “to have a boss blatantly threaten to misclassify them is an act of astonishing disrespect.”
During the economic downturn last year, Washingtonian staffers were furloughed for two weeks. One employee said several applied for unemployment benefits to make up for the lost wages, though they viewed the sacrifice as reasonable considering the circumstances. Staffers said that in June 2020, Merrill put a hold on using vacation days throughout the remainder of the year, though she gave them a week off around the holidays.
Meanwhile, staffers continued to publish a monthly magazine and feed a lively website. They covered the momentous D.C. stories of the past year, from the protests that erupted in the wake of George Floyd’s killing to the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, and did so at a time when outdoor transmission of coronavirus was a much greater concern.
Beaujon said when they return to on-site work, they will be entering an office they have never worked in before, a fact not mentioned in Merrill’s piece. They wonder how well ventilated it will be. They wonder if they will be able to work hybrid schedules, mixing office days with work-from-home days. “I guess the answer to this is ‘no,’” he said.
In her Friday note to employees, Merrill said she was trying to explain how much she values their office culture. While everyone has a different tolerance for remote work, one Washingtonian staffer told HuffPost that she felt the last year has brought her closer to the people she works with. Because of the unique work-life challenges of the pandemic, she’s learned new things about her coworkers and checks in on them in a way she never did before.
This content was originally published here.