Can Employees Use Airbnb for Business Travel?

Employers should have clear and thorough travel policies

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Businesses may want their employees to use house-sharing platforms—such as Airbnb—to save money on travel expenses, and employees may want to use such services for convenience and comfort. But is it a good idea?

Employment attorneys weighed in on some of the things employers should consider when creating business-travel policies, including the safety and security of employee accommodations.

There's been a significant increase in the number of employers that allow workers to use sharing-economy services for business travel, noted Gray Mateo-Harris, an attorney with Barnes & Thornburg in Chicago. It started with ride-sharing, and now house-sharing services are becoming more popular for business travel.

"Using Airbnb can give the employer—and the workers who travel—more flexibility regarding the types of accommodations, cost and even cities where they can stay," said Ann Fromholz, an attorney with The Fromholz Firm in Pasadena, Calif.

Some businesses are already identifying the benefits and risks of using such services and updating their travel policies accordingly, Mateo-Harris said. But it's not just about saving money. Some employees enjoy using sharing-economy services for personal travel and want to do the same when traveling for business. Being in touch with what employees want can increase morale and employee satisfaction, she added.

Airbnb for Business

San Francisco-based Airbnb was launched in 2008 and started as a home-sharing service for adventure travelers, but it now offers a wide range of travel options. The company has more than 4 million listings in 191 countries, according to its website.

Airbnb also targets business travelers by requiring business-friendly listings to meet certain qualifications. "We've limited the work collection to types of listings we think business travelers will love," Airbnb said on its website. "Listings under the 'for work trips' filter must be classified as an entire home or as a private room with an en suite or private bath and meet several quality standards to be included in the work collection."

The business-travel listings must maintain a 4.8 overall rating, have at least five customer reviews, provide for self-check-in and be somewhat flexible on cancellations. They also have to provide certain amenities, such as a workspace, Wi-Fi, hangers, an iron and toiletries. Starting in July, business-ready listings must have smoke detectors, too.

Employers can also use a special dashboard on the website to manage corporate travel. "An employer could use one corporate account for booking and payment that would streamline the expense process," Fromholz noted.

Airbnb did not respond to SHRM Online's request for comment.

Safety Considerations

Employers need to consider any risks associated with using home-sharing services, Mateo-Harris said. They will want to address the safety of the property and the surrounding area and will also want to make sure that sharing-economy services are legal in that jurisdiction and under any applicable collective bargaining agreements. The rules vary by city and may change. This can impact how employers use these services, she added.

"Travelers need to take equal care for their safety in hotels and Airbnb properties," Fromholz said. But employees may face additional risks when booking through Airbnb because the properties are not regulated in the same way as hotels, she noted. "Unlike hotels, for example, Airbnbs may not have staff or security who can help a traveler who might be in distress, and may not have security precautions equivalent to a hotel's."

Thorough Policies

"Employers should have policies that set forth guidelines for workers who travel, to help ensure worker safety and remind traveling workers of best practices for safety," Fromholz said.

If an employer elects to include Airbnb properties as places workers can stay during business travel, the employer should update its travel policies to include concerns specific to Airbnb properties or similar accommodations, she added. The employer should set guidelines about the type of accommodation that is appropriate. For example, perhaps workers are allowed to book apartments but not rooms in a shared house.

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"Remind workers to choose only safe areas, set pricing guidelines and have a method for workers to reach out if something goes awry," she added. "Before permitting workers to stay in Airbnb properties on business travel, the employer should check with their insurer for any restrictions and requirements to ensure ongoing coverage."

Employees should also know what to do if they arrive at a property and don't feel safe, if the property isn't accessible for a worker with a disability or if the worker is harassed by a host, Mateo-Harris said.

"Have a clear policy," she said. "Be sure to spell it out." Is there a backup plan? Should employees call a travel agent or a manager if something goes wrong? Should they make alternative arrangements themselves and sort out the details when they return?

The policy should also cover employee conduct, she added. Workers should be expected to treat the property with respect and should know what will happen if they damage the property or engage in unlawful or improper behavior.

"Whether you're an employer that has embraced the sharing economy or not, these issues are likely to come up, so be prepared to make a conscious decision about how these services fit into your travel policy and workplace culture," Mateo-Harris said.

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