There are lots of reasons as an employer where you may need to move location, often this could be a need to reduce costs, move to larger premises due to expansion, a merger with another business or if a restructure takes place.
An employer can ask their employees to move location if you have what is known as a ‘mobility clause’ within your employment contract. This is a contractual provision that in broad terms allows the employer to require the employee to move their place of work to a different location on either a temporary or permanent basis so long as it is deemed to be ‘reasonable’.
If the new location is just a few miles away and the employee can drive or easily take public transport, it will probably be deemed unreasonable for them to turn down such an offer.
It is important to point out that there is no definition of ‘reasonable distance’ as this can largely depend upon the individuals’ circumstances as to specifically why they choose not to move.
If, however, it involves a difficult journey, even if it's only a few miles away, or has a significant impact on their home life and/or personal matters like a family situation or children's education, it may be reasonable for them to say no to a move.
An employee can also refuse to move if the distance is too great and would have a significant impact on their home life i.e. distance from child’s school, other dependants such as elderly parents nearby, not wanting to leave their current home etc.
In some cases (usually at a more senior level), as an employer, you may choose to offer a relocation package to help support the move, but there is no legal obligation to do so.
Moves that require a significant change of geographical location need looking at more closely. Generally speaking the larger the move, the more likely someone is to refuse, and most large scale relocations are often conducted on a voluntary basis with the ‘carrot’ of relocation support being offered to try and encourage a large of proportion of existing staff to choose to make the move rather than trying to force it upon them.
If you are going to offer a relocation support package, firstly you will need to check whether you have an existing written policy that sets out terms of relocation and criteria whereby employees may be eligible for relocation assistance. Often this is determined by pay grade or in some cases, is on a discretionary basis, but it’s important to sense check the policy to ensure it is not discriminatory in any way.
Look at the limit on the distance of relocation in the policy (if you have one) and determine whether the individuals relocating are within the set number of miles to the new location and therefore would be eligible to receive assistance.
If you are offering a relocation package, then you need to consider what you are willing to include; often for those who need to sell their home and buy another you may pay towards legal and associated fees with the property processes. If your employee doesn’t own a property, you may look to include travel costs, time off to seek accommodation in the new location, temporary accommodation whilst finding a new property etc.
If the move is overseas, then think about the additional costs including flights, and the comparable cost of living. These circumstances require more detailed thinking so it’s important to take the time to do so.
If you are providing assistance, it is important to get a repayment plan in place for the relocation costs should they leave the business within a specific timeframe, usually over 2-3 years worked out on a sliding scale of a reduced amount over time.
Handling employees who refuse to relocate
In this instance there are two options open to you as an employer; if your employees role at it's current location no longer exists, or they are not willing to accept a reasonable alternative that is offered, in this situation their role would become redundant in its current form. This doesn’t mean they would automatically be due redundancy pay, you would need to first check some contractual details including their length of service with the company to establish whether they would be eligible for a statutory redundancy payment.
Or if you have a relocation clause you can try to rely upon that. However although these clauses may appear at face value to allow the employer to insist upon an employee changing location for work, in practice, these type of clauses are interpreted narrowly and often against the employer seeking to rely upon it.
As an employer, whichever avenue you choose to go down you must take care to ensure you are following a reasonable process when consulting with affected employees as there can be a risk of potential claims so you should always sense check whether the action you are taking would be viewed as ‘reasonable’ in light of the information that your employee is presenting when they tell you they aren’t willing to move.
Handling location change processes aren't always straightforward so if you need some guidance or support with managing yours, please get in touch with us on 0115 77 88 109 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Please note our blog posts contain general information and are intended as guidance only and should not be taken as an authoritative or current interpretation of the law. Please ensure that you obtain advice tailored to your individual situation before taking action. These posts apply to the UK only.