Travel Management

Business travel: what the Labour Code says

Grégory Meslin
Responsable Marketing & Communication

Today's employees need to travel regularly for their work, whether it's for a meeting, a business trip or just to meet a customer. These business trips have even become essential to company growth. To provide a framework, the French Labor Code sets out a number of rules guaranteeing the rights and working conditions of employees on business trips. Find out more in this article.

What is considered a business trip?

Business travel concerns a wide variety of professions, from sales representatives and the self-employed to healthcare professionals, technicians, engineers, consultants, artists and many others.

There can be a great many of them, which is why the French Labor Code lays down precise rules for business travel time in France and abroad. These rules are particularly useful for business trips lasting several days or weeks.

A business trip refers to a journey made as part of a person's professional activity. Business travel can take many forms and include many different reasons. For example, it may be for :

  • business meetings ;
  • travel expenses for meetings with customers ;
  • sales missions ; 
  • professional training ;
  • participation in a trade show;
  • as part of site visits or business trips.

Business travel policies can vary from company to company. Indeed, some companies may have specific criteria for what is considered eligible business travel. 

That's why, as a company director, you need to provide precise information on business travel to avoid any confusion, and ensure that this is set out in a written document that employees must sign for agreement.

What rules are imposed on companies when it comes to managing business travel?

The law makes a distinction according to the duration of the business trip. A business trip is an assignment lasting no more than 24 hours, while the term "business trip" is reserved for longer assignments.

The duration of a business trip

Long business trips must meet certain conditions: 

  • The duration of the trip may not exceed 90 consecutive days
  • Employees may be away from home for up to 180 days a year

If these moves infringe these two conditions, they must be reclassified as long-term assignments or expatriations. In this situation, it is necessary to create a rider. This is a written document appended to the initial employment contract to modify the working conditions. Alternatively, you may choose to amend the employment contract directly. In both cases, the employee must sign the document setting out the new conditions.

Travel time for business trips

As a company, if you only organize short-term business trips, you are not concerned by expatriation. However, you must take into account the travel time involved. Should they be compensated?

In France, working hours are clearly defined by contract. However, working hours can quickly increase when you're on the move. Especially when traveling abroad on business!

The French Labor Code stipulates that travel to and from work is not considered as actual work (article L-3121-4 of the Labor Code).

However, business travel involves employees going to a place other than the company's premises. This is an unusual place to work, which is why the French Labor Code specifies this notion. A distinction must therefore be made between two situations.

  • Business travel time is equivalent to home-to-work travel time, in which case the employee is not entitled to compensation.
  • Business travel time exceeds the usual commuting time, as in the case of business trips abroad requiring several hours' flying time. In such cases, the employee may be entitled to financial compensation or time off in lieu.

Compensation terms and conditions depend on the company agreement or collective bargaining agreement in place. In all cases, the employer is obliged to compensate employees, or offer them additional time off, for the time spent traveling.

This recognition of commuting time as actual working time is intended to ensure the protection of employees' rights and guarantee fair remuneration for time spent on business travel. However, it is essential for employees to fully understand the terms of their employment contract and the specific provisions relating to business travel in order to assert their rights in these particular situations. 

Ultimately, the regulations seek to strike a balance between the needs of the employer and respect for the rights and well-being of workers, even when they are away on business assignments.

What about free time?

Business travel and rest periods also raise questions. When traveling on business, whether at the weekend or during the week, employees sometimes have to stay in a hotel after a day's work or a company event. 

During this time, they are free to pursue their personal interests. This is not counted as working hours. So, even if employees are not at home, this free time is considered a form of rest.

On the other hand, if employees are on call in the evening or at weekends, this must of course be compensated financially.

Traveling employees

Some employees do not have a regular place of work. This is the case, for example, of itinerant employees who travel all day to visit their customers. In such cases, you might ask yourself the following question: is the journey from home to the first customer's company and the journey from the last customer's company back home considered working time?

To date, the decisions of the French Supreme Court (Cour de Cassation) and the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) remain unclear. That's why we recommend that you define the terms and conditions in your employment contract beforehand. If these journeys are included in working hours, they must be paid for, as must overtime if they are exceeded.

What is the notice period for a business trip? 

The French Labor Code is not very explicit on the subject of notice periods for business trips. The national agreement of February 26, 1976 on business travel conditions does, however, provide some clarification: the period for informing employees of a business trip is a minimum of 48 hours.

However, the text also takes into account the particularities of business travel. The time limit may vary according to the nature of the trip and the assignment. For example, it may differ between a short trip to meet a customer located less than 50 kilometers away over half a day, and a trip to the United States to attend a company seminar, which is a long trip.

Can an employee refuse a business trip?

Under certain conditions, employees can refuse a business trip. This is known as exercising their right of withdrawal. The French Labor Code allows business travelers to refuse to carry out an assignment if the location presents a serious and imminent risk or danger. For example, the global Covid-19 pandemic fits this criterion perfectly in 2021.

Serious personal or medical reasons preventing the employee from traveling are also valid reasons. Finally, if the business trip does not comply with the terms of the original employment contract, for example if the contract specifies a particular geographical area or if there is excessive travel, the employee is justified in refusing a business trip.

How long does it take to cancel a business trip?

The time limit for cancelling a business trip depends on company policies and specific agreements between employer and employee. As the head of a company, you are responsible for setting up internal policies concerning business travel, including procedures for cancelling or modifying a trip.

Payment of travel expenses

In the case of business travel, travel expenses and mileage allowances can be taken into account by the employer. Kilometric allowances, often based on the number of kilometers driven, are designed to compensate for the costs associated with the personal use of a private vehicle. This includes fuel, maintenance and wear and tear.

In addition to transportation costs, the company may also cover business expenses related to accommodation and meals. Employees should be sure to keep all invoices and expense reports to simplify the reimbursement process. Implementing a company travel policy (PVE) can facilitate the management of business travel and expenses in particular, by establishing clear and transparent rules on reimbursements.

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