You can’t expect staff to move unreasonable distances – even if you say so in their contract

Home You can’t expect staff to move unreasonable distances – even if you say so in their contract

You can’t expect staff to move unreasonable distances – even if you say so in their contract

You may think you’ve covered your risk if you include in staff contracts a proviso that they must be willing to move offices if need be.

Make that clause as broad as possible and you reduce your risk further?

Well, no, actually, quite possibly not.

Either in the UK or overseas

A recent ICAEW Legal Alert highlights an instance where a company had absolutely covered this in staff contracts.

Here’s what their clause said:

‘The location of your employment is[…] but the company may require you to work at a different location including any new office location of the company either in the UK or overseas either on a temporary or permanent basis. You agree to comply with this requirement unless exceptional circumstances prevail.’

Pretty all encompassing.

In this case, the company had two sites – thirty miles apart. ‘It announced the closure of one site and its intention to transfer employees to the other’, says the Legal Alert.

Unfair dismissal

Not everyone fell into line.

‘One employee lived near the site that was closing and could get to work in 20 minutes’, it explains.

‘The commute to the other site would take him two hours. He, and another employee who was also affected, claimed redundancy and refused to turn up at the different site. They were dismissed for failing to obey a lawful instruction and claimed unfair dismissal.’

The employer offered a range of good arguments for its position, on top of ‘the wording of the relevant term’.

It said it had consulted widely, ‘was offering to contribute to travel costs’, and ‘offering flexible working whenever possible’. Plus, the ‘closure was because of challenging trading conditions, and aimed at saving jobs’.

Too wide to be reasonable

However, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) came down on the side of the employees.

It ‘found that the mobility clause was too wide to be reasonable, and had been unreasonably invoked by the employer. The employees had therefore acted reasonably in refusing to attend work at the new site, therefore their dismissals were unfair’.

In the light of the EAT finding, here’s the recommendation of the Legal Alert.

‘Employers should ensure that clauses allowing them to move employees to new locations are reasonable in the circumstances or risk the court ruling that they are unenforceable.’

See the Legal Alert.

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