business first Move

Making your Move

Whether you’re expanding, relocating or looking to upgrade your premises, it’s important to consider the implications on your employees of any office move. Paul Reader, Managing Partner of Berry and Lamberts shares some legal advice.

Relocation should not be taken lightly. Get it right and you’ll retain key staff and stay on the right side of employment law. Get it wrong and it could lead to a fractured team and significant  costs.

If your business is taken over and the new owners want to move, employees’ rights are protected by regulations known as TUPE – Transfer of Undertakings Protection of Employment.

However, in this article we’ll focus on what happens if you’re retaining ownership and want to relocate.

The power of persuasion

The biggest challenge is often persuading your employees to move. This can be done by offering appropriate support and considering an attractive relocation package, which might include paying relocation costs or helping to arrange a mortgage. It’s essential you pay particular attention to consulting and communicating with staff and their representatives before making any decisions.

Additional responsibilities for 20+ employers

If  more  than 20 employees  are  affected, your company will need to elect staff representatives as part of a collective consultation. Plus, if more than 20 employees are affected in any 90-day period, you must undertake a detailed consultation process and procedure and inform the Secretary of State.

Is your request ‘reasonable’?

When you move, employees with a mobility clause in their contract are obliged to move too, unless they can prove the request is unreasonable. For example, it may have a significant financial impact or could cause severe disruption to family life (such as a move abroad at short notice). However, what is ‘reasonable’ is not clearly defined and can be open to interpretation.

It’s often down to the individual to argue what is or is not an ‘unreasonable’ requirement – and this can lead to a workplace dispute. In these instances, you have four options:

  • Mediation as part of the consultation process
  • Compensation – this may or may not be specified in their existing contract
  • Formal dispute resolution through a solicitor
  • If your employee decides not to move (and there is no contractual requirement for them to do so) they will be redundant. Their job at the current location will no longer exist and there will be no suitable alternative. In these circumstances, the employee will be entitled to a redundancy payment if they have worked for you for two years and they haven’t ‘unreasonably’ refused an offer of suitable alternative work. As redundancy is a form of dismissal, the employee may consider an unfair dismissal claim if they feel badly treated.  It’s therefore sensible to consider requiring the employee to enter into a settlement agreement.

Regardless of the reasons for moving your employees, it’s important you seek advice from the outset to ensure the details are correctly managed. It is much more economical to avoid costly mistakes by getting legal advice at an early stage.

Here are some key issues you should consider:

  • Provide your employees with plenty of notice before you intend to move to allow enough time for consultation
  • Articulate clear reasons for the relocation
  • Consider the upheaval involved. A move to the next town has very different implications to one to a new county or country
  • Look into transport links for employee commutes and how this affects the amenities and facilities they can access – and how this differs from the current location
  • Consider the number of employees affected who have care responsibilities – for example, looking after children under the age of 16 or elderly/vulnerable adults
  • Review potential timescales: are they reasonable relative to the distance being moved?
  • Consider offering a relocation package to employees or giving them a trial period at the new location
  • Ask yourself: is anyone being unintentionally discriminated against? The relocation must not adversely affect an individual or particular group of employees or any disabled worker(s).