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Relocation, relocation, relocation: Getting it right

Careful management of your relocation can help you retain key staff

As companies try to find ways to weather the economic downturn, the spectre of relocation is rearing its head more and more frequently. But can an employer actually force their staff to relocate?

Companies can decide to move location for many reasons - the need to reduce costs, find bigger premises or merge with another business. In the event of any relocation, it's essential for employers to pay particular attention to the importance of consulting and communicating with staff and their representatives before making any decisions.

Employees may resist relocation because of factors such as their age, family commitments, increased travel costs and time or house price differentials. An employers' biggest task can often be to persuade their key employees to move - this can be done by offering appropriate support, together with an attractive relocation package, which might include paying relocation costs or helping to arrange a mortgage. Another option is to offer a 'trial relocation period', where an employee can try out the new location in temporary accommodation to get to know the area and settle in first before making a decision.

An employee's rights in the event of relocation depend on their contract of employment and chiefly whether or not it contains a 'mobility clause', which can require employees to move with the office. If this is the case, then employees can be required to relocate unless it's deemed to be 'unreasonable' - such as for financial reasons, or because it would 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, so it is often down to the individual employee to argue what is or is not an 'unreasonable' requirement.

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