Whether you're moving for work or you're coordinating a move for an employee (or several employees), planning an employee relocation can be challenging. Our Complete Guide to Employee Relocation will answer all your biggest questions about relocating employees, from what costs are covered in a relocation package and what employee relocation companies can do to help to how to ask for a relocation package.
Learn about three factors that can impact your rights when your employer asks you to move.
Find out what is considered a reasonable vs. unreasonable request for relocation.
In most cases, your employer can't force you to move, but it's not always that simple. Keep reading to learn more.
Job security is not guaranteed when relocating for work. Learn more about your job security during a relocation.
DISCLAIMER: While we do our best to provide accurate, up-to-date information, laws vary from state to state and this post is not a substitute for legal advice. Contact a lawyer for information pertaining to your specific situation.
If your company is relocating but you aren’t sold on the move or you aren’t able to move for any reason, you may be wondering what your options are. Even if you are interested in accepting the relocation offer, you still probably want to know what your rights are as an employee as you navigate the process.
In this section of the Complete Guide to Employee Relocation, we will discuss:
- Your rights if your company is relocating
- Defining a “reasonable” vs “unreasonable” relocation
- Can your employer make you relocate?
- Job security if you do relocate
Let’s jump in.
1. Your rights if your company is relocating
When it comes to company relocations, employee rights depend on several factors, including:
- Whether the move is considered to be “reasonable”
- Conditions of hire
- What state you live in
Let’s take a look at these three factors in more detail:
Whether the move is considered to be “reasonable”
We take a deeper look at what constitutes a reasonable relocation in the next section, but as far as your rights go:
- You have the right to a reasonable amount of time to relocate based on how far you would have to move.
- You should be given notice well in advance of the relocation, but how much notice you should get depends, again, on how far the move is.
- You have the right to accessibility accommodations if you require them.
Conditions of hire
How you were hired impacts your rights and what you can expect throughout the relocation process:
- Does your contract mention the possibility of relocation? If it does and you agreed to it, this limits your ability to decline the relocation.
- Were you hired with the intent to relocate for work? If it is built into your contract, this also affects your ability to decline the relocation.
- Were you hired as a remote worker? If you were, it will be difficult for your employer to force you to move.
What state you live in
“Wrongful termination and wrongful discharge laws vary from state to state.” This means that in some states, your employer can let you go for no reason and without cause, so keep this information in mind when deciding to accept a relocation. To learn more about laws in your state, check out visit usa.gov.
“Some states are "employment-at-will" states, which means that if there is no employment contract (or collective bargaining agreement), an employer can let an employee go for any reason, or no reason, with or without notice, as long as the discharge does not violate a law.”
2. Defining a “reasonable” vs “unreasonable” relocation?
Technically, a relocation that results in a decline in quality of life can be deemed unreasonable, but there is no hard definition for what a “reasonable” relocation is.
What is considered a reasonable or unreasonable relocation depends on several factors, including:
- Whether the relocation is permanent or temporary
- The distance you will have to travel
- The time it takes for you to travel
- Accessibility to transit
- The length of notice given to you
- The timescale for the relocation and if this is reasonable for the distance of the move
- Your seniority and position
- Whether or not you require accessibility accommodations
3. Can my employer make me relocate?
Unless you are hired with a clause built into your contract that you are willing to relocate, your employer can’t force you to move. However, there are some caveats to this:
If your job will no longer exist at the current office or location—for example, the entire office is moving and the current location will close permanently, or your position is being transferred to a different office and will no longer exist in the current one—and you decline the relocation, according to attorneys at Avvo.com, “you can be considered to have voluntarily quit (which would mean you would not collect unemployment benefits) unless the distance is so far away that it is not considered reasonable for you to travel there to work.”
If you decide not to relocate knowing your position will no longer exist—and there is no possibility of doing the job remotely—you may be offered severance pay with a waiver and be asked to sign documents to protect your employer. Otherwise, you may have to resort to legal action, but whether or not you have a case will depend on whether the courts deem your relocation unreasonable or not.
If you decide not to relocate and your current position is still available, either in-office or via the remote work route, but your employer begins to make your job unpleasant and difficult as a sort of punishment for not accepting the relocation, you may need to file something called a constructive discharge.
“A constructive discharge can be filed by an employee who feels forced to resign because work conditions have been intolerable[...] The employee must prove the conditions in an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claim or lawsuit.”
4. Job security if you do relocate
While your employer is likely relocating you because they value your skills and the work you do with their company, unless you get it in writing, your job is not necessarily guaranteed long-term after you move.
In many instances, companies will require you to work there for a full year (or more) following the move, or else you will have to repay any employee relocation benefits you received to cover the costs of your move. This can indicate that they want to keep you on staff for at least a year after you relocate, but ultimately it is a clause that protects your employer and it does not mean that you can’t be fired during that year.
There are no legal requirements for what has to be offered after accepting a relocation, including what has to be in a relocation package and how long you are guaranteed employment following a move. You may have trouble getting it in writing, as employers are often counseled not to overcommit, which can put the company at risk for legal action.
Relocating for your company can be an intense process, regardless of whether or not it is voluntary. While your employer can’t force you to move, declining to relocate may mean changes to your job or employment status within the company.
Whether you live in an at-will state or not, and regardless of what is in your employment contract, as an employee, you have the right to:
- An appropriate amount of notice so you can prepare for the move
- A sufficient window of time to carry out your move
- A reasonable commute length and distance
- Accessibility accommodations, if you require them
Learn more about the relocation process in our Complete Guide to Employee Relocation: