One query that I receive regularly from my SME clients is how to handle the people aspects of moving business location. Below are some of the common issues and some suggestions on how to deal with them.
a) Can staff refuse to move – even if they have a mobility clause in their contract?
In a word, yes. What many employers don’t realise is that relocation is legally a form of redundancy, since redundancy is defined in law as no longer requiring a particular job role at a specific location. So, you need to comply with the normal rules on consultation (in practice, since companies rarely move at 24 hours’ notice, you will probably have been consulting with staff about the move for some time anyway).
In most cases you will be offering employees an alternative – the same job on the same pay, just in a different location. But in a redundancy situation the question is whether it is ‘suitable’.
If you are relocating from Liverpool to Leeds, the extra travel time and costs, or the need to move house, may mean that it’s not suitable for many employees. Even if they have a mobility clause requiring them to work from ‘company locations’, suitability will still depend on a lot of factors.
Even a small move, which doesn’t appear to have the same issues, can still fall foul of this suitability issue. A move from Manchester City Centre to Salford Quays (roughly 3 miles) probably wouldn’t inconvenience many staff. But an employee with primary school age children, who lives in a commuter town outside Manchester, for example Buxton, may need to get an earlier train to get to work on time, causing problems or increased costs with getting children to school, as well as the extra cost of travel across Manchester. It may not be a ‘suitable alternative’ for them.
So, factor in potential redundancy costs when planning a business relocation – while most of your staff will not have a problem, there may be some who do.
b) Do we have to pay relocation expenses and if so for how long?
There’s no legal requirement to. You may want to, as a gesture of goodwill and to smooth the transition – especially if there are significant extra costs (e.g. having to cross a bridge and pay toll fees). If you do, you can decide or agree how long it is for – some companies will do for between 6 and 12 months.
c) Do we have to replicate facilities e.g. car parking or a canteen?
Only if it is a condition of individuals’ employment that you provide these benefits. If it is then you must do so – or if it isn’t possible provide an equivalent benefit, e.g. a car-parking allowance. If it’s not, then you’re not required to do so. You might want to take the facilities you currently have into account when choosing your new location.
Remember, moving is disruptive and unsettling for many people – even if they can see the rationale for doing it – and so taking their welfare and personal circumstances into account after a move makes good business sense.