How to manage employees travelling for work

Complying with rules on working time, pay and health and safety

Employers increasingly have to manage employees travelling long distances to places other than their normal workplace, including overseas. Queries can arise over an organisation’s obligations with regard to working time, pay for travelling time, transport and health and safety. Not having the correct policies and procedures in place could prove costly for employers both financially and in the time taken to deal with problems and disputes.

Generally speaking, travelling to work from home and back again is not working time as, under the Working Time Regulations 1998, this is any period during which workers:

are working, carrying out their duties, and at their employer’s disposal

are receiving ‘relevant training’.

It can also be any additional period which is agreed between employer and employee to be working time in a relevant agreement (a contract of employment, for example). So getting to work may not be working time, but travelling from home on work business would be. Travel during normal working hours for business purposes will usually also count as working time, as will travel outside normal working hours, if work-related.

Employers must make and retain records of employees’ working time to ensure the regulations are not breached, and should take particular care with employees who travel a lot and who have not opted out of the 48-hour working week.

The next question is whether travel time should be paid. Hourly paid employees should be paid or given time off in lieu if they are travelling on business outside their normal working hours. What they are entitled to may be set out in their contract of employment, but it will be a matter for the employer and employee to agree between them if it is not. Employers should ensure that this pay does not fall below the National Minimum Wage, which has slightly different rules on what is ‘working time’ according to the most recent government guidance on calculating the minimum wage (pdf).

The issue of payment for travel outside working hours is less common with salaried employees but, depending on what their contract of employment says, they may still be entitled to time off in lieu or overtime pay. Again, if the contract does not cover this, it will be up to the employer to agree terms with the employee.

Travel expenses should be driven by clear policies and procedures, and employees should be made aware of these to avoid any disputes over entitlement. Employers may want to set rules, for example, about employees using the most economic means of transport available and only travelling standard class, and cap reimbursement for meals, drinks and accommodation. However, this needs to be balanced against the health and welfare of employees travelling some distance or expected to work soon after arrival. Exceptions could be allowed with prior approval of a manager. Policies should also remind employees about anti-bribery laws and any employer rules on gifts and hospitality, particularly when travelling abroad.

Employers should also consider carrying out risk assessments for employees who travel frequently, or whose health and safety or security may be at risk because they are working in high risk destinations or working alone. Frequent travel may also have a negative effect on an employee’s health, leading to sickness absence or lost productivity. Employees who drive frequently are entitled to rest breaks and should have their eyesight tested regularly (special rules apply to workers in the transport industry).

Organisations should have procedures in place for employees using their own vehicles for work, ensuring the vehicle and its insurance are regularly checked, and potentially the employee’s driving licence. Policies should cover using mobile phones while driving, drink-driving law, and recently introduced drug-driving law. Failure to do so could lead to the employer being liable in the event of an accident.

Employers should make sure employees are careful to protect confidential information when travelling on public transport. Employees should, for example:

not access work emails or other documents that other travellers can easily read

ensure bags containing confidential information (for example, memory sticks or laptops) are not left unattended while travelling or in vehicles overnight

ensure that appropriate IT security provisions, such as encryption, are in place.

Procedures should be reviewed regularly to ensure they are up to date and accurately reflect what happens in practice, and employees must be made aware of them.

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