Why a remote work move away from DC could cut your pay

Many D.C.-area professionals who have moved to full-time remote work from home during the coronavirus pandemic are considering a relocation while keeping their job with their D.C. employer.

Those moves are not just to the suburbs or nearby rural areas. Moves to distant cities where the cost of living is lower or to be closer to family are also on the list, especially for those who can do their D.C. employer’s job from anywhere.

The job may be portable. But the paycheck may not be.

There are D.C.-based companies with a workforce scattered across the country and salaries often depend on where those jobs are located.

So, if a D.C. professional decided to take his or her job permanently remote and move the family to, say, Des Moines, Iowa, will the D.C. paycheck follow?

“No, actually a lot of companies prior to the pandemic already had a COLA, or cost of living adjustment, if you were living in a different economic zone from where the actual office is,” said Trey Barnette, regional vice president at staffing firm Robert Half in D.C.

For many other companies that are used to having all their employees centralized at where they are based, the notion of compensation for remote workers who strike a deal to relocate away has become a hot topic for HR departments.

“A lot of HR departments are getting in front of this by doing what is called a breakdown of economic zones, to see exactly where employees are looking to move in the United States and comparing that to where they currently are, and making compensation adjustments if employees make a request to move to a different city,” Barnett said.

Robert Half’s survey of more than 1,000 HR professionals and more than 1,000 workers in an office setting found that, among those professionals who would consider relocating, only 25% would be willing to take a pay cut to do so.

The survey found that nearly 4 in 10 companies are allowing at least some workers to make a permanent move elsewhere as well.

Twenty-three percent of HR managers said they will determine salary for current staff who choose to relocate based on the employee’s new location.

Robert Half said it may be in employers’ best interest to be open to remote employees’ relocations.

“While some employers are making temporary moves, the ‘anywhere workforce’ is here to stay. Adopting a flexible mindset will be critical for companies and professionals who want to thrive in a highly dynamic business environment,” said Paul McDonald, senior executive director at Robert Half.

An infographic that summarizes Robert Half’s remote work relocation survey results is below.

Infographic of employee relocation trends.
CLICK TO ENLARGE: A survey of more than 1,000 HR professionals and more than 1,000 workers in an office setting found that, among those professionals who would consider relocating, only 25% would be willing to take a pay cut to do so. (Courtesy Robert Half)

Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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