Can an Employer Force You To Travel for Work?
Can your employer make you travel for work? It depends. Several factors impact when an employer can require an employee to travel for business. In many cases, your employer can require travel, but you may be able to negotiate an alternative arrangement with your employer. There are also federal and state laws that may apply.
When Can Your Employer Force You to Travel for Work?
Whether an employer can force you to travel for work depends on company policy, your job description, whether you have a disability that would make travel challenging, your employment contract, if you have one, and the laws in your state.
When you are asked to start traveling can be a factor as well. For example, if you work in a role that didn’t require travel when you were hired, you will have a better case for not traveling than if business travel is included in your job description. However, if your circumstances have changed, you may be able to negotiate not traveling with your employer, or you may be protected by labor laws.
What To Do When You Can’t (Or Don’t Want To) Travel
What can you do if you’re not able to travel? First of all, check your responsibilities and your rights. Then create a plan for requesting a change to your job description and discuss your circumstances with your company.
You may not have many options when asked to travel unless your employer is flexible and willing to accommodate your request. Even if you weren’t originally required to travel, in most states, employment is considered “at will,” and the company can change job requirements with no notice and no consequences.
When you are covered by a union bargaining agreement or an employment contract or have medical or personal circumstances where you can’t travel, you may be able to come to an agreement with your employer that precludes or limits travel.
Business Travel Requirements
Here are some of the factors that can impact work-related travel requirements:
- Job description: If travel is an essential part of your job description, then your employer may be able to require you to travel, even if you don’t want to. For example, if you’re a sales representative who is required to travel to meet with clients, your employer may be able to require you to do so, even if you have commitments that make it difficult for you to travel.
- Employment contract: If you have an employment contract, it may specify whether or not travel is required. If your contract states that travel is required, you may be obligated to travel, even if you don’t want to. You may be considered in breach of contract if you don’t adhere to it.
- Medical issues: If you have a medical issue or disability that would make travel impossible or difficult, you may be able to opt out of traveling. For employees with disabilities, employers may need to make accommodations for workers who can’t travel for work.
- Family reasons: When you have child care or eldercare issues, an ill family member, or other personal circumstances, you may be able to avoid or limit travel, at least temporarily. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act allows covered employees to take unpaid leave from work. Some states also have laws that provide family and medical leave to eligible employees.
- State laws: Some states have laws that protect employees from being forced to travel. Check with your state department of labor for information on guidelines in your location.
Can You Be Fired for Refusing To Travel?
If you are considered an at-will employee, an employer can fire you without reason or warning in most states. There are some exceptions to employment at will, such as workers covered by state and federal law protections, collective bargaining agreements, contracts, public policy, and other circumstances.
It’s important to be careful when you’re asked for flexibility at work, especially if you aren’t covered by an agreement that provides it. You don’t want to lose your job because you refused to travel. If you think that may happen, it can be better to start a job search and look for a position where travel isn’t a requirement.
What To Do if You’re Unable To Travel
When traveling for work isn’t feasible, you should first write up why you can’t travel so you’re prepared to talk to your employer. If there are medical reasons why travel is an issue, ask your doctor for a letter explaining the circumstances.
Be prepared to suggest options, such as the following:
- How you can get the job done without having to travel
- Working remotely
- Video options for conferences
- Virtual meetings
- Equivalent local options for conferences, meetings, and customer visits
- Team member traveling in your place
- Shifting of job responsibilities
- Transferring to another position
Meet With Your Employer
If possible, it’s best to talk to your employer before you’re asked to travel. Asking in advance will preclude a difficult situation where you have to say that you can’t go at the last minute.
Discuss the situation with your manager or human resources department. If you belong to a union, talk to your representative. First, let them know how important the job is to you. Next, explain your reasons for being unable to travel and see if there is a way for you to meet your job duties without traveling. Share your suggestions for a workaround that will make sense for both you and the company. For instance, suggest video conferences, virtual meetings, or local arrangements whenever possible.
If your request is based on medical or family circumstances, provide documentation, such as medical certificates or legal documents, to support your case for exemption.
Your employer may be willing to explore alternatives or make accommodations for you, such as allowing you to work remotely, changing your job description, or adjusting the travel schedule to accommodate your needs.
More Options to Consider
Explore Internal Resources. Consult your company’s human resources department or employee assistance program (EAP) if available. They can provide guidance, mediate discussions, or offer resources to address your concerns effectively.
Get Legal Advice. If you believe your employer is unfairly pressuring you to travel or your concerns are not being addressed, consider seeking legal advice from an employment attorney. They can assess your situation and provide guidance based on applicable laws and regulations.
Check with the EEOC. If your employer is unwilling to make accommodations for you, you may have the option to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC enforces laws that protect employees from discrimination, including discrimination based on disability. If you can show that your employer requires you to travel and you are unable to do so because of your disability, you may be able to file a successful complaint with the EEOC.
Note: While employers generally have the authority to require work travel under certain circumstances, employees also have rights and options. It’s important to understand the terms of your employment contract, engage in open communication with your employer, and explore potential alternatives that may accommodate your concerns or limitations.