If you are relocating to new premises, or asking an employee to move to another office or branch, you will need to understand how you can legally request a move. This includes exactly how far you can expect an employee to travel to their new place of work.
However, the employment law rules relating to reasonable travelling distance are by no means clearcut, where what counts as “reasonable” – and whether an employee can lawfully refuse to relocate to a new place of work – will depend on the specific facts and circumstances of each matter.
The following guide for employers and HR personnel looks at what the law says about reasonable travelling distance for employees, and what factors need to be taken into account when asking an employee to work in a different location. It also looks at ways in which you can approach any request to relocate, making the transition as smooth as possible.
Asking an employee to relocate
There are various reasons why you may be considering moving premises, or asking staff to relocate to a different branch or office, especially in the current economic climate where a move may help you to cut costs or where staff are needed in other areas of the business.
That said, even where the reasons for relocation are legitimate, your right to ask an employee to work elsewhere will primarily depend on the terms and conditions of their employment contract. If their contract of employment contains an express mobility clause requiring them to undertake their job role at a different location, assuming that clause is not too widely or unfairly drafted, they must agree to any reasonable request that falls within its scope.
For example, where a mobility clause provides that the employee has to move within certain limits, for example, within a set radius, and the proposed relocation falls within those limits, in theory the employee will be contractually obliged to work in the new location.
In limited cases, even in the absence of an express term requiring an employee to relocate, it may be reasonable to imply a term to this effect. This could be, for example, where the reason for the change to an employee’s place of work is due to business efficacy.
It could also be where a contract is silent as to an employee’s place of work but requires the employee to provide such duties as are necessary for the conduct and management of the company’s affairs. However, the ambit of any implied term is likely to be extremely narrow and would still require any new place of work to be within a reasonable travelling distance.
What is the maximum reasonable travelling distance for work?
What constitutes a reasonable daily travelling distance is not defined by legislation. This means that there is no maximum distance permitted by law, but rather you should take account of the scope of any mobility clause and apply some common sense, factoring in local traffic or travel conditions based on the extra commute involved.
What constitutes a reasonable commute distance, for example, will depend on the terms of the employee’s contract of employment, and the scope of any mobility clause allowing for relocation. You will also need to factor in local traffic or travel conditions.
In circumstances where the mobility clause requires an employee to relocate to a different part of the country, this is less about reasonable travelling distance and more about providing reasonable notice to allow an employee to find somewhere new to live. In many cases, these types of mobility clauses will also make provision for reasonable notice, or a term would be implied to this effect, especially given that this would usually necessitate moving house.
If, on the other hand, the scope of the mobility clause only allows for a more local move, or you are relying on an implied term to justify a relocation, what will be regarded as reasonable will depend on how the employee usually travels to work and how much extra time will be needed.
The cost burden of travelling a reasonable distance
The responsibility for any additional travel costs arising out of a relocation will depend on the terms of the employee’s contract. In the absence of any contractual provision to cover the cost of extra travel, or travel time, you are not obligated to compensate the employee in any way.
That said, where relocation involves additional travel time and expense, you may want to consider what financial incentives you can afford so as to make the transition smoother. Even where your request to relocate falls squarely within the scope of an express mobility clause, the offer to recompense an employee for any loss may help to minimise any objections raised.
Absent any financial incentive you run the risk of losing a valuable employee and burdening the cost of recruiting their replacement. As such, if an employee is suggesting that the travel distance for their proposed new place of work is unreasonable, offering to pay their travel expenses, or for their travel time, might help to redress the balance and resolve any dispute.
Can an employee refuse to travel to a new place of work?
If an employee wants to refuse a relocation they should raise their objections as soon as possible prior to the proposed move. In some cases, these objections may be overcome, for example, by way of financial incentive to cover the cost of additional travel. Where a dispute cannot be resolved, this may result in the employee’s dismissal or redundancy.
In theory, if an employee’s contract of employment contains an express mobility clause, any refusal to work in a different location will leave them in breach of contract. However, the mere existence of a mobility clause within the employment contract is by no means conclusive as to whether you can force an employee to move to a new place of work.
A mobility clause, even where clearly drafted and reasonable in its terms, does not necessarily mean that an employee can be forced to relocate. There may be a whole host of factors that, for a particular employee, would make a move impossible for them. This means that even where the proposed new location falls within the scope of any reasonable contractual provision, an employee may still have the right to argue that a move is unreasonable, taking into account the nature of the relocation and their individual circumstances.
This could arise, for example, where the employee’s proposed new commute – as a result of the extra travel time needed or by having to take a different travel route – interferes with childcare arrangements or creates some other serious disruption to family life. In some cases, it could even be regarded as discriminatory to require a female with childcare responsibilities, or someone suffering from a long-term medical condition affected by lengthy travel, to travel further to their proposed new place of work.
In the absence of any financial recompense, an employee could also refuse to move for economic reasons, arguing that the cost of additional travel – or the cost of additional childcare to cover the extra travel time – is unreasonable for them.
As such, you should still act reasonably when relying on the provisions of any express mobility clause, having regard to any factors or protected characteristics that may impact on the ability of an employee to work elsewhere, and offering financial incentives where appropriate. Any failure to do so could otherwise amount to a breach on your part of the term of mutual trust and confidence implied into all employment contracts.
Redundancy due to relocation
Where it is clearly not reasonable to ask an employee to relocate, but they are unable to continue in their current role at their existing place of work, for example, due to closure of the premises, the employment relationship will need to be terminated following a fair dismissal process. Given the reason for their dismissal will be redundancy, the usual redundancy pay rights will apply. This means that an employee may have the right to a redundancy payment if they have worked for you for a continuous period of 2 or more years.
Typically, where an employee has worked for you for 2 or more years, they will be entitled to statutory redundancy pay at a rate of half a week’s pay for each full year they were under 22, one week’s pay for each full year they were 22 or older but under 41, and one and half week’s pay for each full year they were over the age of 41.
If, on the other hand, an employee unreasonably refuses to move, and dismissal is the only option, they would forfeit their right to redundancy pay. What constitutes an ‘unreasonable refusal’ will depend on all the facts, but it could include refusing to move even though the new location is nearby and the employee could drive or easily take public transport.
That said, you still should proceed with caution, regardless of whether or not you can justify this course of action. Any decision to dismiss, or refusal to make a redundancy payment, could result in a claim for unfair dismissal or even unlawful discrimination. It will then be for the employment tribunal to decide the question of “reasonable travelling distance”.
Employment law reasonable travelling distance: the relocation process
Asking an employee to work somewhere else, especially where this will add extra time and expense to their daily commute, can often be met with resistance. This can give rise to all sorts of potential disputes over the reasonableness of the move, added to which there is no clearcut guidance on what constitutes a “reasonable travelling distance”.
As such, even where there is clear contractual provision requiring relocation, and even more so where the employment contract is silent on mobility, it is always best to try to secure the agreement of an employee prior to any move, rather than forcing relocation on them.
The following practical tips can help you to follow a fair process at all times, minimising the risk of any disputes and maximising the acceptance rates of affected employees:
- Clearly communicate your intentions from the outset, informing affected employees of the proposed relocation, together with the reasons why and the timescales involved. The importance of consulting and communicating with staff before making any decisions cannot be underestimated, providing employees with sufficient time to raise any objections.
- Consider any objections raised by employees on a case-by-case basis and the ways in which these can be overcome, taking into account any additional travelling time, as well as any family or other commitments that would make it difficult for an employee to relocate.
- Offer financial incentives where appropriate, such as travel expenses or an increase in salary, in this way helping to redress the balance and pre-empt any potential disputes.
- Provide employees with sufficient time to make any alternative arrangements, for example, for childcare, that may arise as a result of the extra time needed for their commute.
- Consider the use of remote working, at least for part of the week, in this way reducing the days in which any travel is required, or allow for flexible working so that employees can avoid travelling in rush hour by starting or finishing work at different times.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.