Ask the HR Expert: Changing business location

Peninsula Team

September 09 2011

I am proposing to relocate the business 5 miles away from where I am presently situated. A member of staff has complained that it is too far and believes that I should pay for travel expenses; is this the case? A change of workplace location can trigger various problems with your staff, and if this is the only concern that you have been presented with, you could be forgiven for counting yourself lucky! There is generally no obligation upon an employer to pay for the cost of an employee’s journey to and from work. However, you should check the employee’s contract of employment to see if there is any provision in this regard. Some contracts do contain clauses which entitle the employee to claim money back for this specific travel expense, although this would be quite rare. If there is such a provision, then to refuse to pay this amount could constitute a breach of contract or an unlawful deduction from wages, entitling the employee to make a claim. However, such clauses are uncommon. Occasionally, when a business is relocated to a substantially different area of the country, the employer may offer a sum of money to each employee to assist them with the costs of moving house (if the move requires complete re-location), but for your employee, is clearly not the case. There is obviously a distinction between moving 5 miles and moving from, for example, Manchester to London. If you run a benefit scheme, such as paying for an employee’s train ticket for their journey to and from work, you would need to take any change to cost of travel into consideration, subject to the terms and conditions of the scheme. You have not enlarged on the employee’s complaints that the new work location is ‘too far’ – this could be a significant part of the complaint on the part of the employee which could need further consideration. There may be other reasons that are affecting the employee’s feelings about this move and it may be advisable to find out what there are. Look in the contract again to see if there is a clause which is termed a ‘mobility clause’. This clause would enable you to enforce a change of location on your employee as long as the move was reasonable in respect of geographical distance and the notice you are giving them of the move. If there is no mobility clause, in some circumstances, the employee may ultimately refuse to move; however, because the distance between the two workplaces is small, this is not likely to stand up. Because you are only at the proposal stage, you still have plenty of time to discuss this and any further concerns with the employee before any move happens.

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