Can an Employer Force You to Work Out of Town?

Many jobs these days require travel for work. In some cases, you may be asked to travel at an inconvenient time, or to a place you don’t want to go. It may seem unfair for employers to require you to work out of town. In the United States, refusing to travel for work may jeopardize your job.

Can an employer force you to work out of town? An employer can require you to work out of town as part of your job. An employer cannot force you to go on work-related travel, but if you refuse to go, you could be fired. All states in the United States, except Montana, can have “at-will” policies, meaning that, unless an employee has an employment contract that states otherwise, an employer can fire an employee for any reason. This remains true as long as the reason is not illegal or against public policy.

We’re going to talk about what laws are in place to protect employees and where employers have the upper hand. We also have some suggestions for how to talk to your employer when you are unable – or unwilling – to perform the travel you are requested or required to do.

What About Employee Protection – Is Required Travel Included?

There are overarching federal laws governing employment that set minimum requirements for employers to follow that prevent discrimination, set minimum wages, and provide other protections for employees. 

States are required at a minimum to uphold these federal laws, but each state has laws governing employers and employees that can be more stringent.

Despite federal and state laws that employers must follow, employers have a lot of discretion in hiring and firing employees. In most cases, employees who are fired from their jobs have no recourse against their employers. Unfortunately, refusing to travel when it is a requirement of your role isn’t considered discrimination. In fact, it may put you in a precarious situation. 

If you are unsure about the status of your employment or what employment laws apply to you, you should consult an attorney in the state where you work. Each situation will be different and will be heavily based on the facts of the matter, so you should not compare your situation to that of another employee or person, even if the situation seems similar.

Can You Be Fired For Refusing to Travel?

Employers can ask you to travel for your job. Even if you do not think the travel is necessary, or you do not want to travel, you are being asked to do it as part of your job. Refusing to travel may be seen by your employer as a failure to perform your job duties. 

The work-related travel may come at a time that is not good for you personally, but the employer, in most cases, does not have to consider your reasons. If you refuse to travel for work, your employer can fire you.

What Is an At-Will Employee?

In the United States, most employees are “at-will” employees who can be fired from their job at any time, for any reason, or for no reason. There is no requirement to give an employee notice, either. There are a few exceptions:

  • Employees who sign employment agreements may not be “at-will.” 
  • Union employees who are part of collective bargaining agreements are not considered “at-will.” 

If you do not know what kind of employee you are, you are most likely an “at-will” employee.

Employees with Employment Agreements

If you have an employment agreement, your employment agreement will set out your status as an employee. 

Many times, employment agreements will state that employees are “at-will” employees, but there are cases where an employment agreement states only certain reasons (e.g., for cause) that an employee may be fired. In those cases, an employee is not considered an “at-will” employee.

In the event that you are fired from your job for refusing to travel, and you are bound by an employment agreement, you should have an attorney review your agreement to see if your employer lawfully fired you.

An employment agreement will also lay out your job duties, and if travel is listed in your job description, you will be contractually obligated to travel according to the terms of the agreement. If you do not travel as stated in the agreement, you will be in breach of your employment agreement, and it may be grounds for your employer to fire you.

How to Talk to Your Employer About Work-Related Travel

If you are asked by your employer to travel for work, and you are not able to travel, here are tips for speaking with your employer about it:

  • Talk to your supervisor as soon as possible. Giving your employer as much notice as possible will help your employer find a replacement for you. If it is just one or two work trips you are not able to go on, employers will often understand, especially if you are a dependable employee in good standing.
  • Be upfront about your inability to travel. If you are working in a position that requires travel for work, and you have restrictions that limit your ability to travel, you should let your employer know. The employer may be able to accommodate you or come up with an alternate solution that works for both parties.

You do not have to offer up personal details about your restrictions, but your employer will not have the ability to help try to accommodate you if you do not give them the opportunity.

Wrongful Termination

There are certain instances where the firing of an “at-will” employee is considered wrongful termination and not allowed. (FindLaw)

Whether a claim of wrongful termination exists depends on the specific facts of each case. If you think that you have been wrongfully terminated, you should speak with an attorney who specializes in employment law in the state where you work. 

Types of wrongful terminations include those that:

  • Violate federal, state or local law
  • Violate public policy
  • Breach an implied contract for employment
  • Violate the implied covenants of good faith and fair dealing
Violation of federal, state, or local lawsWrongful terminations can also occur if an employer violates federal, state, or local anti-discrimination laws. For example, if a female employee refuses to travel for work, and is fired for refusing to travel for work, but her male counterpart at work refuses to travel for work and is not fired, there may be a claim for discrimination.
Public policy violationWhen a termination violates a well-established public policy, then it will be considered wrongful termination.  For example, if an employee is fired because she filed a worker’s compensation claim after being injured on the job, this is a clear wrongful termination that violates public policy.
A breach of implied contract for employment Sometimes, an implied contract was formed between an employer and employee, even though no written employment agreement was signed.

A common example is the workplace handbook. If such a handbook states that an employer must take certain, specific steps in the termination process, and those steps aren’t followed, this could be considered wrongful termination under implied contract. 
Violation of the implied covenants of good faith and fair dealing violationA small number of states have an exception that does not allow employers to fire employees in bad faith. This narrows the “at-will” status of employees that allows an employer to fire employees for any reason or no reason. In these states, you may have great protection than a standard “at-will” employee.

The Bottom Line

If you are asked by your employer to travel for work, and you refuse, in most cases, your employer can fire you. 

Most employers do not need to have a reason to fire an employee. If the employer is not violating any laws or employment contracts, there is no recourse against your employer for being fired. If you do not want to travel for work and your employer is asking you to travel, your best option may be to find another job.