She Snores, He’s a Rowdy Drinker: The Downsides to Requiring Shared Hotel Rooms

Companies should seek alternatives to control travel costs, SHRM members advise

Dana Wilkie By Dana Wilkie January 11, 2019
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​To keep travel costs down, a company requires workers attending a conference to share hotel rooms.

This can raise all sorts of issues, from mere annoyance to harassment claims, according to those who weighed in on the topic during a recent discussion on the Society for Human Resource Management's (SHRM's) online discussion platform, SHRM Connect.

One HR professional asked peers if her company should require people of the same gender but not the same sexual orientation to share hotel rooms during a business conference. The company encouraged room sharing, the poster wrote, to control travel costs.

That question opened an entire discussion about the wisdom of requiring employees to share hotel rooms at all.

Donald A. Jones, an equal employment investigator for federal agencies, wrote that if an employer has a conference budget, it should calculate how many workers can attend the event without sharing a room, and then rotate employee conference attendance each year.

Jones and others quoted here by name agreed to have their SHRM Connect comments used for this article. 

Requiring workers to share hotel rooms can raise legal and morale issues, wrote Joseph DiNorcia, vice president of operations and CFO for New York City-based Demos, a public-policy organization dedicated to political and economic equality.

"When staff are traveling for business, it is important for them to be able to have downtime and space to unwind," he wrote. "Having to share a room with another staff person would make it feel like they are working the entire time they are at the conference."

From a legal perspective, he wrote, "you are opening your firm to potential liability in the event there is an incident between [roommates]. There are so many variables of what can go wrong with staff sharing rooms, that I don't believe the cost savings is worth the risk exposure."

[SHRM members-only online discussion platform: SHRM Connect]

Most employees now have extensive training on what constitutes harassment, DiNorcia pointed out in a separate interview with SHRM Online. "By having employees share hotel rooms, [you are] exposing the company to potential liability for harassment claims. This is further complicated when you add the potential for an alcohol-related incident. You have one staff person return to their room intoxicated and get into a fight with the other staff person, or worse. Sexual abuse … is also a risk." 

Even renting an Airbnb accommodation where several employees would each have their own bedroom can raise issues, he said.

"It's unlike a hotel where―if staff have their own rooms―if an incident takes place [in a common space], it may still be an awful thing to deal with, but the company didn't put the staff person at an increased risk as it did with [renting] an Airbnb."

In an HR Q&A on its website, SHRM noted that there are no laws prohibiting employers from requiring workers on business travel to share hotel rooms or rental homes. "However, doing so may cause employee relations issues that, in the long run, cost an employer more in lower employee morale, higher turnover, and decreased productivity than the savings realized," SHRM wrote. "Not being at home and putting in long days in unfamiliar territory may already stress employees. While a small number of employees may be comfortable sharing a room, a room-sharing policy could create ill will between co-workers."

SHRM stated that the following scenarios are potentials for conflict: 

  • A light sleeper bunked with a snorer.
  • Similarity or difference in sexual orientation.
  • An early-to-bed sleeper bunked with a night owl.
  • Differences in personal space zones.
  • Differences in bedtime and/or bathroom rituals.

SHRM suggested alternatives to room sharing, such as:

  • Same-day travel, when possible.
  • Renegotiation of the corporate rate with the hotel chain.
  • Use of a less-expensive hotel chain.
  • Reduction of travel costs in other areas, such as meal and alcohol per diems and transportation.

For employers with no choice but to require shared hotel rooms, SHRM suggested the following approaches:

  • Provide employees ample time to select a roommate before randomly assigning roommates.
  • Allow employees to pay the difference between a private and double room.
  • Require room sharing only when the room rate is higher than a specified amount defined in your travel policy.
  • Encourage roommates to discuss bathroom schedules and other issues upfront. 
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