Many executives have strongly urged, formally requested, or persuasively appealed to their employees to resume working from the office in the past year, but their efforts often yielded minimal results. In a surprising turn of events, the CEO of Grindr, an LGBTQ+ dating app company, issued a decisive and uncompromising directive for employees to return to the office, significantly reducing the company’s workforce.
In the preceding month, Grindr presented its entire remote workforce with a two-week window to commit to working in an office at least two days a week, starting in October. Employees who failed to comply with this requirement were informed that they would lose their jobs effective August 31. A considerable number of employees chose not to return to the office. As a consequence, 82 out of 178 staff members—equivalent to 46 per cent of the workforce—were released from their positions for declining the request. This decision was incredibly challenging for many employees who would have been required to relocate to Los Angeles, Chicago, or San Francisco to meet the company’s demands.
The recent actions taken by Grindr have had a detrimental impact on the company’s unique and inclusive workplace culture, which many employees consider a rare gem within the tech industry. Some union members criticise the company for what they perceive as hypocrisy. Grindr has asked LGBTQ+ staff to abruptly disconnect from their support networks in a political climate where homophobic and transphobic attacks have increased.
Labour Disputes and Union Allegations at Grindr
Today, the Communications Workers of America, representing Grindr’s employees, submitted two claims of unfair labour practices to the US National Labor Relations Board against the company. These allegations accuse Grindr of unlawfully stifling discussions related to working conditions within company communication channels and through an agreement offered to terminated employees in exchange for severance pay. The National Labor Relations Board has the authority to take various remedial actions, such as revising parts of the agreement or requiring the company to commit to not restricting such speech in the future.
Grindr has introduced a relocation stipend for its remaining employees and offers six months of severance pay to those who do not commit to in-office work. According to company spokesperson Sarah Bauer, the workers’ choice to unionise did not influence the decision to return to the office. Bauer emphasized that Grindr respects and supports its team members’ right to decide on union representation.
The shift from a remote-first to a hybrid work model at Grindr began in April, coinciding with the company’s focus on engineering hiring in its Chicago hub. During a company off-site event in June, Grindr CEO George Arison did not formally announce a policy change but indicated that the company was keeping its options open with no immediate alterations planned for the next six months.
However, in late June, Grindr’s interim head of HR shared a message on Slack, clarifying that “nothing is changing yet for our current team” regarding remote work. This message emphasized that hub-based recruiting would only apply to new hires, as indicated in a screenshot seen by WIRED.
Uncertainty and Disagreement Over Return-to-Office Impact
Grindr’s union asserts that many employees have been affected by the recent implementation of the return-to-office mandate. While the union claims that approximately 70% of the engineering team, 80% of the product department, and 85% of the product design team have been impacted, Grindr’s management disputes these figures. It’s worth noting that the company doesn’t publicly disclose such information.
Furthermore, in the next phase of the rollout, set for next year, members of various other teams at Grindr, such as those working on privacy and customer experience, are expected to face potential termination if they do not comply with the in-office policy. This impending departure has sparked concerns among the remaining staff about the app’s functionality. Some have drawn parallels to Elon Musk’s employee purge at Twitter and the subsequent following glitches.
Erick Cortez, a knowledge specialist within Grindr’s customer experience team based in Dallas, Texas, is uncertain about his future work location. Frustrated, he says, “We’ve gotten no guidance whatsoever.” Cortez’s role involves collaborating with engineers to address issues within the Grindr app. However, with most of the engineering team no longer in place, he explains, “We have already run into quite a few issues where we simply don’t know who to reach out to.”
Grindr’s Abrupt Shift in Remote Work Policy Sparks Controversy and Union Allegations
While several tech giants, such as Amazon, Meta, and Google, have been implementing stricter policies regarding remote work, Grindr’s transition was notably sudden. According to employees, this new policy was announced by Arison during a Zoom meeting in August, and the meeting ended abruptly before a staff member could pose a question. Cortez and another colleague mentioned that inquiries posted on Slack after the meeting were left unanswered.
This unexpected policy change caught many Grindr employees off guard, as it contradicted Arison’s previous support for remote work, his statements during the June off-site event, and the reassurances HR gave on Slack. As reported by these two staff members, even employees hired just weeks before the announcement were not informed that they would be required to work in the office. Last month, the CWA (Communications Workers of America) filed a charge of unfair labour practices, alleging that this mandate was intended to penalize staff members for their unionization efforts.
Cortez points out that the layoffs disproportionately affected union supporters, with nine out of 11 members of the union organizing committee being terminated. According to him, the company disabled the chat feature in Zoom during all-hands meetings in the weeks following the layoff announcement, only to reinstate it after the terminated employees had left. This specific action is at the centre of one of the unfair labour practice charges filed by Grindr’s union today. They argue that the company unlawfully shut down a communication channel crucial for discussing workplace issues.
Challenges Faced by LGBTQ+ Employees at Grindr and Allegations Against the Company
For Robin, an employee who identifies as transgender and requested WIRED to keep their gender and real name anonymous due to concerns about potential retaliation, the mandate presented a difficult choice. They had to decide between keeping a job they loved and a support network that included trusted doctors who provided essential transgender medical care. Ultimately, Robin chose to leave the company. They described their time at Grindr as “a blast of fresh air” compared to other tech industry jobs, where they didn’t feel like the only queer person or the most visible queer person in the workplace. Unfortunately, that sense of belonging has now been lost.
None of the approximately eight openly transgender employees, who would have had to relocate, decided to do so, highlighting a significant impact on a group of workers who already face marginalization,” Robin emphasizes. “In this political climate, demanding that LGBTQ+ individuals uproot their lives for their jobs contradicts Grindr’s mission, which revolves around its proximity to users and its integral role in the community.”
In one of the two complaints filed today with the NLRB, the CWA asserts that a severance agreement offered to departing employees, which prohibits them from revealing company policies and plans, could potentially be seen as impeding their right to communicate with each other, the NLRB, and the union.
The downsizing of Grindr is not the first instance where the CWA has alleged that the return-to-office policy is being weaponized to undermine unions. In January, the union filed charges against Alphabet, alleging that its return-to-office approach was punitive towards YouTube employees who had recently organized a partnership, a claim that Alphabet refutes.