Travelling for business: Does an employee have the right to say no?

It’s not uncommon for employees to have to travel as part of their work. But what if they don’t want to? Travelling for work can interfere with family life and general downtime, so can an employee reasonably decline?

It all comes down to the contract.

When an employer offers someone a job that involves travel, this has to be stated in the contract. It needs to outline whether the company will pay the employee for overtime for travel, whether time off will be given in lieu of extra hours spent travelling, and what the expected weekly work hours are.

By signing a contract that mentions any expectation of travel, the employee is agreeing to these terms and has a professional obligation to meet them, and if an employee doesn’t voice concerns before they sign, they’ll need a genuine reason to opt out.

Jo Stubbs of XpertHR Group, explains: "The employee must advise their employer of any genuine issue that may prevent them from being able to travel, such as a known medical condition."

The importance of travel

Tom Shurville, managing director of Distinctly digital marketing agency, says often it’s not straightforward, particularly where in-person meetings are vital for building lasting relationships.

"If the journey falls on an inconvenient date for our employees due to personal circumstances, we look to reschedule the trip where possible or send someone else."

But sometimes, things aren’t that easy. "If the journey would be important for their professional development or the business, they would be expected to represent us."

When travel causes problems

Peter Steins used to work as a hotel contractor and buyer before he started his own travel company, ATO-TOURS.

"My former employer stressed how important it would be for me to go on frequent business trips from the interview stage onwards. I went on around 12-15 trips per year, each an average duration of five days," he recalls.

Peter soon realised it’s difficult for an employee in his former situation to successfully refuse to travel without it impacting their professional reputation. This was especially irritating for him when it came to travelling on weekends or for reasons that didn't seem very important.

"I think employees should have the right to say no when it gets to the point where business trips are done for budget reasons alone. On more than one occasion, I was told to go on trips just to keep travel boards happy.

"Refusing to travel isn’t taken well at all, but I strongly believe in the responsible employee being able to decide when it is necessary to travel and when not.”

So, can an employee say no?

If an employee has signed a contract which states travel will be required and then refuses to do so, the employee is in breach of contract, explains Capital Law’s Employment Partner, Richard Thomas.

He says: “By refusing to carry out the contractual duty, the employee is technically in breach of the employment contract [and] the employer may be able to argue that the employee’s refusal amounts to a breach of the implied contractual term of mutual trust and confidence. Again, this may provide an employer with ammunition to take disciplinary action against the relevant employee with dismissal being a potential outcome.”

Things to remember

The experiences of how employees and employers handle travel for business vary from one company to the next, but there are a few essential things for all parties to remember.

  • Employers have the right to ask someone to travel for work if it is mentioned as a responsibility in their employee's contract, or other official documents issued to them
  • Employees have the right to refuse to travel if they have a genuine reason that could put them or the company at risk such as a medical condition
  • As with most business negotiations, communication, honesty and understanding go a long way when wrestling with official business


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