Can a Company Require a Long Drive and Not Pay for a Hotel?

I am not in this situation but a friend of mine is.  She works for a company as an outside sales executive.  She obviously is exempt from overtime.  When she took the job, she was told that her sales area would be in the city she lives while the corporate head quarters are located 2+ hours away.  She was told that there may be a quarterly need to come down to corporate for corporate meetings.  This has now changed within the last six months to monthly meetings.  With traffic, her drive is usually 3 hours, one way, and she must be at the corporate office at 7:30 am.  After putting in a full day, she has another 3-hour drive home.  

I asked her about querying her company for a service pick up or a hotel room and they rejected the notions even though she is the only sales exec that must travel this distance.    The situation is very tough on her and I am wondering if there is anything legal protecting her in this situation. 

Yeah, that’s pretty awful. Once a quarter is obnoxious but doable. Once a

month is giving me stress just thinking about it. I don’t care for driving either, though.

Unfortunately, there is no law (that I’m aware of) that requires companies to provide accommodations, even for things which are designated as overnight–except in California, which requires that all business expenses be reimbursed. I think you could make pretty good argument that having to be three hours away for a 7:30 am meeting would be a good business reason for a hotel room. They may feel otherwise. Or (and this is entirely possible), they just might not get it.

Let me tell you a little story. Once upon a time I lived in Rochester, NY. I got contacted by a company for a job interview in Manhattan. I said, “What do I do about travel reimbursement?” and the recruiter said, “it’s not that far!” I said, “It’s a 6 hour drive.” She said, “Isn’t Rochester by Westchester?”

Sigh. No, it’s not. For what’s it worth, they flew me down and paid for the plane ticket, but they never reimbursed my taxi and didn’t hire me. They later went out of business. Karma.

Anyway, the recruiter truly had no clue–and if she had she probably wouldn’t have contacted me for a job interview. These people probably don’t quite get what they are asking your friend to do. So, my advice would be to be much more direct. Here’s what I would say:

“In order to make the 7:30 meeting, I need to come up the night before. It’s not practical to get up at 3:30 to come to the meeting. Is there a particular hotel that the company wants me to use, and how should I submit the expense?”

Note, she’s not asking, she’s telling. This is often much more effective than asking. But if her boss says no, then the next step is to say, “It’s not physically safe for me to get up at 3:30, drive for three hours, work a full day and drive three hours home. If I have a car accident, the company will be liable.” Now, technically, this liability is subject to a complicated set of state laws, and this isn’t 100 percent true, but the company should be liable because it’s a business trip and not a normal commute.  So, this is definitely the next path to take.

If that fails, she should say, “I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to make the trip up monthly without hotel reimbursement. Should I join in via video conference?”

If the boss still says no, she should escalate the issue. If that fails, then it’s time for her to decide if this is the hill she is willing to die on. If she’s a star performer, it’s probably safe for her to put down her foot and refuse. If she’s mediocre and can be easily replaced, doing this will likely result in the end of employment.

So, what I would do in this situation is pay for my own hotel room, because I could not physically do that kind of day and be a safe driver, and put all my effort into finding a new job where they don’t treat their employees poorly.

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15 thoughts on “Can a Company Require a Long Drive and Not Pay for a Hotel?

  1. She can also file the expenses as a deduction on her taxes. It might be part of the 7% rule (not sure?) and it’s different than reimbursement, but she could at least reclaim some of it. She should google “deducting unreimbursed business expenses.” Mileage, hotel and maybe even meals on the road might be deductible.

  2. “Sigh. No, it’s not. For what’s it worth, they flew me down and paid for the plane ticket, but they never reimbursed my taxi and didn’t hire me. They later went out of business. Karma” Get real lady! What a poor attitude. They paid for your plane ticket, what else do you want? A crown for your head? Of course, why would a company not hire someone as wonderful as you? If you lived in Manhattan would you expect them to pay for your taxi? Again, ex-pat trying to write about a country and a job market she has not been in for years and years and years.

    1. She wants reimbursement for her expenses. It’s expected that travel expenses be either covered or reimbursed. That’s how it’s always been when I’ve been in the market, for 30 years and up to 5 years ago.

  3. I’m an Army Reserve Soldier. I drill about an hour’s drive from where I live. It’s *just* under the mileage limit where the Army Reserve would pay for a hotel for me.

    I get one anyway, and take it out of pocket, because it’s worth it to me not to have to drive that hour early on a Sunday morning on drill weekend.

  4. I totally agree with this analysis. Sometimes what is right and fair will anyway not be what you get, and ultimately you will have to accept that or vote with your feet. If you have other options, you have leverage. If you are a valued contributor you have leverage. It’s always good to make sure that you have such leverage in your back pocket.

  5. I was in a similar situation, my district headquarters were three hours away and we were expected to attend monthly meetings. For several years, we were allowed to stay in a hotel the night before the meetings, this all changed when the company decided to cut costs and would not allow anyone to stay overnight. They did change the start and end times of the meetings, but it still made for a very long day for many of us. Some of us got together and we would carpool, this really helped having someone else in the car. Maybe there is someone that this person could partner with, they may not be as far as her, but they still have a long drive.This policy only lasted about a year and then we went back to overnight stays.

    There have been times over the course of my career that I have chosen to pay for my hotel room, so I did not have to worry about traffic or a long commute. Last year we had an important leadership meeting in the city I live, but traffic can be very unpredictable and it was November, so to be on the safe side, I booked a room close to our corporate office. I was on time for the meeting, relaxed and had a five minute commute. I did not expect my employer to pay for my hotel room.The cost of the hotel was worth the piece of mind and sometimes we have to do these types of things as a professional.

    1. No. We should not have to pay for business expenses ourselves. If the company’s business model depends on employees paying legitimate business expenses, then the company should go out of business.

      BTW, I have a friend who lives and works in a Chicago suburb. When she attended an industry conference downtown, her employer paid for her hotel. Even though she could have gotten up early and taken the train in.

  6. Does this person have a travel expense account with company? If so, her travel may be billable but not the hotel expense, but asking if the company has a relationship with a certain hotel might help with costs and if this is a long term situation, one could get a preferential rate for frequent bookings, again lower costs. I do believe certain expenses like hotel costs and mileage are also tax deductible within a certain guideline– for work- provided receipts are kept in case needed for IRS review for 10 years.
    I throughly understand the problem of excessive driving as in my mind anything over a half hour of driving by car is maddening as I would rather someone else do the driving. ( I personally experienced LA traffic when I lived there, driving in bumper to bumper traffic over a 10 mile space). But there are people who just enjoy driving and don’t mind the commute. I have heard that early morning commute is easier than driving in gridlock traffic.

  7. The letter writer doesn’t say how big this company is. And we don’t know whether this is a set-at-corporate-level policy or just the boss.

    But I always found the people who set corporate policy on travel at my Fortune 20 company to be people who never travelled and didn’t care about those of us who did. My co-workers generally saw travel as a perk rather than as the chore it is when it’s routine.

    I remember calling the travel department once to ask them to remove a motel from the approved list when I had to walk over piles of discarded drug paraphernalia between the partpking lot and my room. No sympathy from them.

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