If your organisation is moving to a new location or you are asking an employee to transfer to another office or branch, a key consideration will be determining whether the distance the employee will have to travel to their new workplace is ‘reasonable’.
Unfortunately, the rules on travelling distance for work are far from clear, and what constitutes ‘reasonable’ – and whether an employee can refuse to relocate – will vary depending on the facts and circumstances.
The following guide for employers and HR professionals examines what the law says about reasonable travel distance for employees, as well as what factors should be considered when asking an employee to work in a different location. It also considers how to approach any request to relocate in order to make the transition as painless as possible.
There are a variety of reasons why you may be considering relocating your business or asking employees to relocate to a different branch or office; a move may help you save money or employees may be needed in other areas of the company.
Even if the reasons for relocation are valid, your right to ask an employee to work somewhere else is primarily governed by their employment contract terms and conditions.
If their contract of employment contains an express mobility clause requiring them to perform their job role in a different location, they must agree to any reasonable request that falls within its scope, assuming the clause is not overly broad or unfairly drafted.
For example, if an employee’s mobility clause requires them to move within certain parameters, such as a certain radius, and the proposed relocation falls within those parameters, the employee will be contractually obligated to work in the new location.
Even if there is no express term requiring an employee to relocate, it may be reasonable to imply such a term in some circumstances. This could be the case, for example, if the reason for an employee’s relocation is due to business efficiency.
It could also be the case where a contract is silent on an employee’s place of employment but requires the employee to perform all duties necessary for the company’s conduct and management. However, the scope of any implied term is likely to be extremely limited, and any new place of employment would still need to be within reasonable driving distance.
Maximum work-related travel distances
Legislation does not define what constitutes a reasonable daily travel distance. This means that there is no legal maximum distance; instead, you should consider the scope of any mobility clause and use common sense, taking into account local traffic or travel conditions based on the additional commute.
For example, what constitutes a reasonable commute distance will be determined by the terms of the employee’s employment contract and the scope of any mobility clause that allows for relocation.
When an employee’s mobility clause requires them to relocate to a different part of the country, the issue is less about a reasonable travel distance and more about giving them enough notice to find a new place to live. In many cases, these types of mobility clauses will also provide for reasonable notice, or a term to that effect will be implied, especially given that moving house is usually required.
If, on the other hand, the mobility clause’s scope only allows for a more local move, or you’re relying on an implied term to justify a relocation, what will be considered reasonable will be determined by how the employee normally commutes to work and how much additional time will be required.
The employee’s contract should determine who is responsible for any additional travel costs incurred as a result of the relocation. You would not be obligated to compensate the employee in any way if there is no contractual provision to cover the cost of extra travel or travel time.
However, if your relocation requires additional travel time and expense, you may want to think about what financial incentives you can offer to make the transition easier. Even if your relocation request falls squarely within the scope of an express mobility clause, offering to compensate an employee for any losses may help to mitigate any objections and foster positive working relations.
You risk losing the employee and incurring the cost of replacing them if there is no financial incentive. As a result, if an employee claims that the travel distance to their proposed new workplace is unreasonable, offering to pay their travel expenses or travel time may help to redress the balance and resolve any disagreement.
Can an employee refuse to relocate?
If an employee wants to object to a relocation, they should do so as soon as possible before the move is scheduled. These objections can be overcome in some cases, for example, by providing a financial incentive to cover the cost of additional travel. If a disagreement cannot be resolved, you could look to proceed with dismissal, potentially by redundancy or as a result of a breach of contract. In theory, if an employee’s employment contract includes an express mobility clause, refusing to work in a different location will result in a breach of contract. However, the mere presence of a mobility clause in an employment contract is in no way conclusive as to whether you can compel an employee to relocate.
Even when clearly drafted and reasonable in its terms, a mobility clause does not always imply that an employee can be forced to relocate. There could be a variety of factors that would make a move impossible for a specific employee. This means that, even if the proposed new location falls within the scope of any reasonable contractual provision, an employee may still be able to argue that the move is unreasonable, given the nature of the relocation and their specific circumstances.
This could occur, for example, if the employee’s proposed new commute interferes with childcare arrangements or causes other serious disruptions to family life due to the additional travel time required or the need to take a different route. In some cases, requiring a female with childcare responsibilities or someone suffering from a long-term medical condition that is affected by long travel to travel further to their proposed new place of work could be considered discriminatory.
In the absence of monetary compensation, an employee may refuse to relocate for economic reasons, claiming that the cost of additional travel – or additional childcare to cover the extra travel time – is too high for them.
As a result, you should still act reasonably when relying on the provisions of any express mobility clause, taking into account any factors or protected characteristics that may affect an employee’s ability to work elsewhere and, where appropriate, offering financial incentives. Failure to do so could result in a breach of the implied term of mutual trust and confidence in all employment contracts on your part.
When it is clear that asking an employee to relocate is unreasonable, but they are unable to continue in their current role at their current workplace due to the closure of the premises, the employment relationship may be terminated through a fair dismissal process. Where dismissal is due to redundancy, the employee will be entitled to the standard redundancy pay. This means that if an employee has worked for you for more than two years, they may be eligible for a redundancy payment.
When an employee has worked for you for two years or more, they are typically entitled to statutory redundancy pay at the rate of half a week’s pay for each full year they were under the age of 22, one week’s pay for each full year they were 22 or older but under 41, and one and a half week’s pay for each full year they were over 41.
If, on the other hand, an employee refuses to move for no reason and is forced to resign, they will lose their right to redundancy pay. What constitutes a ‘unreasonable refusal’ will be determined by all of the facts, but it could include refusing to relocate despite the fact that the new location is close by and the employee could drive or take public transportation easily.
Regardless of whether or not you can justify this course of action, you should proceed with caution. Any dismissal decision or refusal to make a redundancy payment may lead to a claim for unfair dismissal or even unlawful discrimination. The question of ‘reasonable travel distance’ will then be decided by the employment tribunal.
Reasonable travelling distance best practice
Requesting that an employee work somewhere else, especially if it will add time and expense to their daily commute, is frequently met with opposition. This can lead to potential disagreements about the move’s reasonableness, especially since there is no clear guidance on what constitutes a ‘reasonable travel distance’.
As a result, even if there is a clear contractual provision requiring relocation, and even more so if the employment contract is silent on mobility, you should obtain an employee’s consent prior to any move, rather than forcing them to relocate.
The following practical tips will assist you in maintaining a fair process at all times, reducing the risk of any disputes and increasing the acceptance rates of affected employees:
- From the start, be clear about your intentions, informing affected employees of the proposed relocation, as well as the reasons for it and the timelines involved.
- It’s impossible to overestimate the value of consulting and communicating with employees before making any decisions, giving them enough time to raise any concerns.
- Consider any employee objections and how to overcome them on a case-by-case basis, taking into account any additional travel time as well as any family or other obligations that would make it difficult for an employee to relocate.
- Offer financial incentives, such as travel expenses or a raise in salary, where appropriate, to help redress the balance and avoid any potential disputes.
- Allow enough time for employees to make any alternative arrangements, such as childcare, that may become necessary as a result of the extra time required for their commute.
- Also consider using remote or hybrid working for at least part of the week to reduce the number of days when travel is required, or allow for flexible working hours so that employees can avoid travelling during rush hour by starting and finishing work at different times.
Employee relocations can raise many legal risks and employee concerns, particularly in relation to what is a reasonable travelling distance. Under our Triple A service, employers can access unlimited employment law advice for a fixed fee.
For advice on how to manage the relocation process, and any associated issues such as redundancy due to relocation, contact our employment law specialists.
Reasonable travelling distance FAQs
What is a reasonable commute distance?
As there is no single definition of reasonable travel distance, employers are advised to ensure inclusion of a mobility clause within employment contracts to remove any ambiguity or uncertainty should a relocation be required.
What is a reasonable distance?
Without guidance in law, employers should refer to the employment contract. In the absence of any contractual reference, use common sense and take into account local traffic or travel conditions.
Can my employer make me move to another site?
This will depend on the terms of the employment contract. If there is mobility clause requiring an employee to relocate, any refusal will amount to a breach of contract, unless the employee can show that a move would be unreasonable.
How do I refuse a relocation?
Employees should raise their objections as soon as possible to allow time for an agreement to be reached or if the objections cannot be overcome, for a fair dismissal process to take place.
Last updated: 9 August 2022