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FAQ: Can Employers Unilaterally Change Their Remote Work Policies?

FAQ: Can Employers Unilaterally Change Their Remote Work Policies?

With some companies making remote and hybrid work a permanent part of their office policy while others are scaling it back or rescinding it, we're frequently asked by both employers and employees whether remote work policy can be changed or cancelled, even if it was agreed upon at hiring.

The short answer is yes.

Unless under a personal or union contract, most employment in New York State is considered "at-will”. This means that employees may be terminated, and may terminate their employment, at any time and for any reason. There are exceptions under federal, state, and local laws, examples being discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, whistleblower protections, jury duty obligations, etc.

The same holds to any changes made to their compensation, benefits, and work conditions, even those agreed upon during the hiring process (again, providing these changes don't violate existing laws, like minimum wage or sick leave, and provided that these changes are applied in nondiscriminatory manner).

An employer of an at-will worker may, at any time, increase or decrease their salary, add or reduce unaccrued vacation days, or allow, disallow, or limit remote work. However, employers may only change salaries and work conditions prospectively and must notify employees of any changes.

That said, employers should make clear at hiring (preferably in writing) that salaries, benefits, and work conditions are subject to change, based upon the needs of employer. Employers should also consider what impact changing policies will have on morale, loyalty and retaining employees. It’s a two-way street, and at-will employees who are unhappy with policy changes can always look for greener pastures.