Quinn McGee learned last week that to keep their job as a product manager at Grindr, the gay dating app, they would have to move to California from New York by October under the company’s new return-to-office rules.
“It’s difficult to even fathom how I would be able to be living in California in seven weeks,” said Mx. McGee, 41, who uses gender-neutral pronouns. They were hired in 2021 and have been working remotely from Brooklyn: “I have a lease that I am legally meant to follow through with. My partner is a medical practitioner, and I have good medical providers here.”
Grindr sent workers its return-to-office plan in an Aug. 3 memo, a copy of which was reviewed by The New York Times. The company asked them to pledge by next week that they’ll report to their assigned offices and show up two days a week, or leave the company. Anxiety rippled through the staff of roughly 180 people, as some weighed whether to move or lose their jobs.
The plan was unveiled two weeks after employees filed a petition to unionize. A complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board the next day by the Communications Workers of America, the union that Grindr employees hope to join, argued that the company’s new office rules were meant to retaliate against workers for their union organizing efforts.
Grindr said that the plan had been in the works for months, and that the employees had been warned earlier in the summer that their remote work arrangements would end. The company offered up to $15,000 to cover relocation expenses, and six months of severance pay for those who choose to not report to their offices.
“Grindr’s hybrid work model and return-to-office plan have nothing to do with the N.L.R.B. election petition,” a company spokesperson said. “We respect and support our team members’ rights to make their own decision about union representation.”
The dispute underscores the tensions that corporate workers and their employers are navigating as companies call people back to the office and workers fight to keep their flexibility. Many companies have started to issue office attendance rules, with some indicating that they will monitor badge swipes or incorporate compliance into performance reviews.
For employees at Grindr, the difficulty of the N.L.R.B. case will be proving motive, said Matt Bodie, a professor at University of Minnesota Law School. “What Grindr will say is that it reached this completely independent of any actions by the employees to organize,” Mr. Bodie said. “The one thing the union has in its favor is that the timing does look suspicious.”
A Grindr spokesperson said the company told employees at an off-site meeting in June, roughly five weeks before the plan was announced, that Grindr would be ending its “remote first” work policy, with details to be announced in the future. Several employees recalled that when they had asked about the plans, executives at the meeting had reassured them that changes would not occur within the next one to two quarters.
Under Grindr’s new return-to-office plan, many of its U.S. employees, some of whom were hired remotely, will have to report two days a week to the offices where their teams are clustered — meaning engineers 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 other teams haven’t yet been assigned to an office, and won’t be required to move until 2024.
Employees have until Thursday to decide whether they will comply with the policy, according to the plan reviewed by The Times. It is not clear exactly how many workers will have to move.
Employees say the disruption to their personal lives is significant, with leases, families and medical providers tying them to their homes.
Jack Alto, 31, a software engineer, said he was struggling with the decision because he had just switched apartments in Pittsburgh before being told that he had to move to Chicago.
Companies are legally allowed to change working conditions during a union campaign period so long as they had already been planning to do so, though not if the changes are due to the union effort, Mr. Bodie said.
Erick Cortez Sanchez, 24, a knowledge specialist in Dallas, joined Grindr in 2021. His teammates were told that they will have to report to an office by 2024, though they don’t yet know which office. Those employees will find out more after the new policy begins to take effect, according the company memo.
“We’re in a complete state of confusion,” Mr. Cortez Sanchez said, adding that he is supposed to decide whether to renew his lease in Dallas within the next month.
At some companies, workers have formed associations — like #AppleToo, a group of Apple workers — to express their viewpoints about return-to-office plans and ask for more flexibility. Many companies have granted some level of flexibility through hybrid plans, asking workers to come back only two or three days a week.
Management experts said return-to-office plans that required people to change cities could hurt morale.
“It seems incredibly disruptive from a life perspective,” said Melissa Nightingale, a co-founder of Raw Signal Group, a management training firm. “Do I understand why the employees impacted by this are raising an eyebrow? Yes.”