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With the pandemic, I've seen tons of vacancies from many Fortune 500 companies where the vacancy specifically says that the position will be permanently 100% remote (i.e.. they never have to go to the office).

I assume that many people applied to these positions (and were hired) because of this specific benefit. I also assume that many people quit their current jobs to apply for these 100% remote jobs.

Can these companies suddenly decide that the job will no longer be remote? If so, what would happen to the people that are unable to go to the office?

An extreme example: someone in California working 100% remote for a company in Florida.

I'm not asking for myself, although these remote positions are tempting.

I ask because there are thousands of people that applied (and were hired) to these positions and most assume that nothing can change.

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  • 1
    I know people that live in a state and were hired for a remote position at another state.
    – rbhat
    May 13 at 15:41
  • 5
    This reads highly hypothetical IMO
    – DarkCygnus
    May 13 at 20:46
  • 1
    @DarkCygnus Even if it is hypothetical, it's a question that people can still find useful. For example, those considering fully remote jobs now know to get that location specified in their contract. May 14 at 10:39
  • 2
    @GregoryCurrie usually hypothetical Qs are discouraged, because they are harder to answer correctly and precisely, OP is unable to clarify or enhance (as its not real, it's hypothetical), etc... besides this one is also near "company-specific" and "depends on locale" territory (another thing that makes it hard to answer in a canonical or helpful way for everybody)... although to be honest I see that currently this has not derailed and answer are ok, so :)
    – DarkCygnus
    May 14 at 17:30
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    @GregoryCurrie some reading: workplace.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/4425/… , (old answer) workplace.meta.stackexchange.com/a/2131/73791 , (and to balance things out) workplace.meta.stackexchange.com/a/7017/73791
    – DarkCygnus
    May 14 at 17:37

4 Answers 4

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Can these companies suddenly decide that the job will no longer be remote? If so, what would happen to the people that are unable to go to the office?

If the employee's contract states that the job is 100% remote, then this would be a change to the agreed contract. Whether the employer can unilaterally decide to change the terms of the contract and enforce them on the employee will depend on both the wording of the contract and the laws in the relevant country/state.

In places that have strong rights for workers this would not be possible, and attempting to fire someone for not agreeing to this change would be constructive dismissal, just like it would be unacceptable to decide to cut an employee's pay in half and then fire them unless they agree.

But you need to look up the laws in the relevant area, or (better yet) speak to a lawyer.

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  • Thanks. So you're saying that this type of detail should be mentioned in the contract that the employee signs?
    – rbhat
    May 13 at 15:37
  • Long long before Covid, a company in the UK that I had left just about at the right time was sold, the new owner decided the wanted to close everything down, and in order to avoid redundancy payments, they moved the company 300 miles away, lots of people quit, and then they closed down.
    – gnasher729
    May 13 at 15:38
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    @rbhat if the employee is effectively arguing "You agreed that I could work 100% so you have to continue to let me do that", they need to be able to evidence that agreement. That would usually be done by pointing to the relevant line in their contract, but doesn't have to be. They may also be able to point to something else in writing (such as an email), or even argue that it was part of a verbal contract - but those are harder to argue, and may not hold up in some countries.
    – Gh0stFish
    May 13 at 15:40
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    I can see a company successfully arguing that they will no longer support remote positions, therefore making the remote position no longer exist, and having the onsite position be an offer for a new position that the employee can either accept or reject (or something roughly to that effect). That argument wouldn't work for cutting someone's salary in half. But whether this argument would work would depend entirely on local laws in the applicable area (although I can't imagine that a company can legally be forced to continue supporting remote work indefinitely in any sensible legal system).
    – NotThatGuy
    May 14 at 11:37
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    @NotThatGuy Why would a company be allowed to unilaterally change a contract just because they don't like it anymore? If they signed a contract that says the employee can work 100% remote they can try to negotiate with the employee but I don't see how any sensible legal system should allow them to just change that part of the contract at will.
    – quarague
    May 15 at 10:51
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Can these companies suddenly decide that the job will no longer be remote?

I would say that in the USA the answer would be yes, unless there's a legal contract or law that prohibits it.

If so, what would happen to the people that are unable to go to the office?

I would say that in the USA the answer would be that they could terminate your employment, unless there's a legal contract or law that prohibits it.

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  • I know many people that quit their current jobs and applied to these positions because they would be permanently remote (according to the vacancy post). Isn't there anything that protects them?
    – rbhat
    May 13 at 15:12
  • @rbhat Is the remote job permanent or can the employer terminate the job whenever they wish to?
    – androidguy
    May 13 at 15:14
  • The remote job is permanent, like any other job. The difference is that it's remote.
    – rbhat
    May 13 at 15:19
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    @rbhat since most US companies can get rid of you for no reason at all, why would there be anything to protect you from them changing their mind about remote? The only thing that protects you is your value to them - if you are a worker they very much want to keep, and you're only willing to work remote, then your value is your protection. May 13 at 15:20
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    Most states in the USA are at-will states, which means your employer can terminate your employment for any reason or no reason, so long as the reason isn't legally prohibited by contract or by law. So... I would think that no, there's nothing to protect you in this scenario.
    – joeqwerty
    May 13 at 16:04
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Based on the examples in the question, I'll assume that this is taking place in the US.

Can these companies suddenly decide that the job will no longer be remote?

Yes, they can.

If so, what would happen to the people that are unable to go to the office?

They would likely have to find a new job, unless they have a union contract or other contract that gives them special rights. (That would be unusual).

I ask because there are thousands of people that applied (and were hired) to these positions and most assume that nothing can change.

I'm not sure most assume nothing can change. If they did make that assumption, they made a mistake.

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  • Just a bit of a footnote that about 1/4 of US workers are not strictly at-will due to enterprise bargaining agreements, or other forms of contracts. May 14 at 18:30
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In Canada, the employer would typically have to pay severance if the employee chooses not to make the change voluntarily. The amount of severance can be determined by the employment contract, by a collective bargaining agreement, by the Provincial Employment Standards Act or (which can be much more expensive in some cases) by common law.

Even if the employee is being asked to cross the street daily from their condo to the office building, rather than (say) moving from Halifax to Toronto, that small-ish change can be arguably interpreted as 'constructive dismissal'.

That's from my experience, not to be taken as legal advice.

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