Warning: Jobs advertised as ‘remote’ don’t always stay that way

Remote work is a big priority for millions of workers. 

It was once a poster child of the remote-work revolution, but earlier this month Zoom became the latest company to summon its workers back to the office, joining Google, Amazon and many other companies in the ongoing tug-of-war over where employees work. Zoom

said employees who live within 50 miles of a Zoom office must work in person at least two days a week.

There were more than 700,000 advertised vacancies for fully-remote roles in July, according to the job-search engine Adzuna, with most of those remote jobs in IT. Still, the share of remote job postings on ZipRecruiter hovers at 10.5%, down from 13.7% a year ago.

Although one study released by Gallup on Thursday suggested that fully-remote employees are far less engaged now than they were during 2020, experts say remote work isn’t going away any time soon. 

As such, employers have gotten “savvier” about advertising jobs as “remote” online because hiring managers are aware that remote jobs are in high demand, said Amy Stewart, senior content marketing manager at compensation software and data platform Payscale.

A “remote” job listing does not guarantee that a job will remain remote. Although employers may be dangling the possibility of remote work to attract workers, job seekers need to be aware that companies can take away remote work just as quickly as they offer it.

A ‘remote’ job listing does not guarantee it will remain remote. 

“Employers who have the flexibility to accommodate evolving preferences for working conditions may gain competitive advances in attracting and retaining talent, particularly among younger and female workers,” said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst, at Bankrate.com.

But problems remain. Some Amazon employees told CNBC this week that they’d rather quit instead of moving to a new state as part of the company’s relocation mandate directed to certain teams.

Earlier this week, Goldman Sachs

managers reminded workers to go back to work in-person five days a week. The company issued the return-to-office mandate last year. Jacqueline Arthur, global head of human capital management, told MarketWatch that policy is broadly in line with other financial-services firms.

The majority of Americans (64%) support remote-work schedules over in-person work, and 78% of those who support remote work said they are willing to make sacrifices for it, according to a Bankrate survey released Thursday. The most common sacrifices workers cited were changing jobs or industries (42%) and working off-peak hours (35%).

Advertised job details are not legal requirements, said Mark Hanna, partner at law firm Murphy Anderson, which represents employees and labor unions. “In an at-will employment situation, employers can change these rules on a whim.” Some employees think they have a right to remote work, but that is a misconception, Hanna added. 

If remote work is important to you in your job search, there are ways to vet employers’ claims about remote roles. Keep these four things in mind:

1. ‘Remote’ is not a legal term

There is no official definition of what constitutes “remote work,” experts told MarketWatch.

“Remote” is not a legal term. “It’s however people define it in that job environment,” said Elizabeth Tippett, a law professor at the University of Oregon, specializing in employment practices. It could mean working at home most of the time and coming in for meetings, or it could mean, “We don’t really have a policy right now but maybe we’ll figure it out later,” she said. 

Workers employed “at-will” is a legal term. That means workers can be fired for any reason, often without warning, but it also means employers can change the terms of employment at any time.

If a potential employer promises a remote job verbally, but not in a contract, proceed with extreme caution. “I would not rely 100% on their assurances regarding remote work,” Tippett said. “And the more vague they are about the promise, the more you’ve got to wonder, would you trust them to execute it? Because the law may not protect you.”

2. Get the ‘remote’ terms in writing

Many higher-up executives already have the ability to work remotely spelled out in their contracts, but it’s less common for lower-level employees, Hanna said. “Get employment contracts. Do what your bosses did,” Hanna added. “Your bosses have contracts.”

Before you get that far, don’t waste each other’s time. Companies and individuals have different definitions of being remote, so it’s crucial to ask the hiring manager during the interview to explain what “remote” means in the context of the specific role for which you’re applying.  

Discussing this with the hiring manager could also help a candidate get an idea of the flexibility of the workplace, and learn about policies on issues such as relocating to a different city or working during non-traditional hours, Stuart said. 

3. Check the company’s work culture

Talk to future co-workers, especially those who also currently work remotely, Tippet said. Has the employer ever changed its policy about remote work arrangements? Do current employees like the employer? “It’s all about whether you trust the company,” Tippet added. 

Anecdotally, Payscale’s Stewart and her team told MarketWatch they heard from job seekers who decided not to apply for a job or accept a job offer because the hiring manager or employees told them that “remote” meant something different to what they thought.

Look into the employer’s infrastructure, Hanna said. Where are the offices located? What is the company’s culture like? A bigger, traditional company with offices sitting empty may be more likely to call people back into the office than a smaller startup. 

4. It’s an employee-driven labor market

Though there are signs the labor market may be cooling off, wages are still high, and there is still plenty of hiring happening, and employers are still looking for ways to attract candidates. Remote work is one of the perks they’re offering.  

“There are still 3.6 million more job openings than unemployed workers, that’s still a very wide gap,” said Julia Pollak, chief economist at online employment site ZipRecruiter. 

Meanwhile, the number of job advertisements specifying that the role is office-based saw a 17% increase in July compared to last year, according to Adzuna. “Some employers really are trying to return to normalcy,” James Neave, Adzuna’s head of data science, told MarketWatch.

“This is what employees want,” Hanna said. “Smart employers in this job market will have these opportunities for remote work where it makes sense.”


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