Quinn McGee, a product manager at the gay dating app Grindr, recently discovered that they would have to move from New York to California in order to keep their job. Grindr’s new return-to-office rules required employees to report to their assigned offices two days a week or leave the company. This news came as a shock to McGee, who uses gender-neutral pronouns and has a lease and medical providers in New York. The company’s plan was sent to employees in an August 3 memo, causing anxiety among the staff.
The unveiling of the return-to-office plan occurred two weeks after employees filed a petition to unionize. The Communications Workers of America, the union that Grindr employees hope to join, filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, arguing that the new office rules were intended to retaliate against the workers for their organizing efforts.
Grindr stated that the plan had been in development for months and that employees were warned earlier in the summer that remote work arrangements would come to an end. The company offered relocation expenses of up to $15,000 and six months of severance pay for those who chose not to report to the offices.
The tensions between corporate workers and their employers are evident as companies call people back to the office while workers fight to maintain flexibility. Many companies have implemented office attendance rules and some have even indicated that they will monitor badge swipes or incorporate compliance into performance reviews.
For Grindr employees, the challenge in the N.L.R.B. case will be proving motive. Matt Bodie, a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, explains that the union must demonstrate that the company’s decision was influenced by the employees’ organizing efforts. However, the union has the advantage of suspicious timing.
According to a Grindr spokesperson, the company informed employees at an off-site meeting in June, five weeks prior to the plan’s announcement, that the “remote first” work policy would be ending. However, executives reassured employees that changes would not occur within the next one to two quarters when asked about details.
Under Grindr’s return-to-office plan, U.S. employees will have to report to offices two days a week. Engineering teams will be in Chicago, the marketing team in Los Angeles, and the product management and design teams in both Los Angeles and the Bay Area. Some teams have not yet been assigned to an office and will not be required to move until 2024. Employees have until Thursday to decide whether they will comply with the policy.
The disruption to personal lives is significant for many employees, with leases, families, and medical providers tying them to their current locations. The decision to relocate is particularly challenging for those who have recently made housing changes, such as Jack Alto, a software engineer who switched apartments in Pittsburgh before being told to move to Chicago.
Companies have the legal right to change working conditions during a union campaign period if the changes were already planned, but not if they are a result of the union effort. Erick Cortez Sanchez, a knowledge specialist in Dallas, joined Grindr in 2021 and is currently unsure which office he will eventually have to report to.
At some companies, workers have formed associations to express their views on return-to-office plans and request more flexibility. Flexibility has been granted by many companies through hybrid plans, which only require employees to come into the office two or three days a week.
Management experts warn that return-to-office plans that require employees to change cities can harm morale. Melissa Nightingale, co-founder of Raw Signal Group, a management training firm, recognizes the disruption these plans can cause in employees’ lives and understands why they may be raising concerns.