Human Resources News & Insights

Answers to tricky HR questions: Room-sharing travel policies

Our team of experts fields real-life, everyday questions from HR managers and gives practical answers that can be applied by any HR pro in the same situation. Today’s question: The legality of room-sharing travel policies.

Question
Our policy is that when two employees of the same gender are traveling together on company business, they must share a hotel room.

Some of those employees may be taking medication or administering treatment to themselves for health problems. Are we risking a HIPAA violation by requiring them to give up their privacy?

Answer
Generally, the answer is no, says Jane Dalton, attorney with Duane Morris LLP, but there is a catch.

Inadvertent disclosure of a medical condition as a result of the same-room policy doesn’t fall under HIPAA. However, the ADA requires that medical info be kept confidential, and many states have laws that protect employees’ privacy rights in such circumstances.

So the violation might fall under ADA, not HIPAA.

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  • Lynn Olson

    Aren’t there other concerns (besides potential medical disclosure) over having a policy that requires employees to share rooms)? You have incompatability issues such as smokers/non-smokers, those who go to bed (or rise) early/late that affects whether or not the lights/TV are on, potential of putting people with different sexual orientation together inadvertently that may cause issues, and just the lack of privacy. My feeling is that if a company requires an employee to be away from their home, the least they can do is give them a private room to help make up for that. Are there many companies that have such policies of forcing employees to share rooms?

  • Rhonda Brown

    You don’t deal with the trickier issue. If you have 3 women and one man, is it discriminatory to provide the man a single room? And what are the issues if you don’t? And, how do you decide which woman gets a single?

  • Susan L

    I am the HR Admin for an electrical contractor that frequently has work out of town that requires a 2-man crew to share a hotel room that the company pays for. This expense is calculated in our bids and, to remain competitive, the crews must share a room to keep the costs down. This is a common practice with other contractors who are on the same sites that we are.

    All of our employees are aware of our room-sharing policy during the interview process and are also advised of the company’s expectations of each employee’s conduct and treatment of fellow employees.

    We have had issues of compatibility for a variety of reasons. To deal with this, we have changed crew members around to try to accommodate differences. In some cases, we will re-assign a crew that otherwise works well together to a job that does not require overnight stays.

    We have found that if there is a particular employee who has difficulty sharing a room with ANYONE also has difficulties working on jobsites with anyone. We will then try assigning that employee to 1-man jobs. We don’t have very many of these so this isn’t always an option.

    In some cases, despite every attempt to find a working solution, that employee eventually ends up being terminated.

  • Kristine

    I can’t imagine working for an employer who forces co-workers to share a room. I see it as an invasion of personal privacy to be expected to take care of personal hygiene, dress and sleep in the same room with someone who could be little more than an acquaintance. I’m going to a conference soon and while the idea of sharing a room came up, when I asked for my own room I received permission. I actually really like my co-workers, but I appreciate privacy for my morning religious and fitness routine. Plus I just like downtime by myself after the work day is done. Unless I’m being paid for it I don’t think I should be expected to be with a co-worker 24/7.

    I don’t know about legal issues, but private rooms equal happier and more productive employees. I was in the military so I know all about tight quarters, which is probably why I’m not interested in doing it anymore. I’m an adult working in a professional field, I feel I’m entitled to my own room if I’m asked to travel.

  • Susan L

    If we only had a few employees occasionally needing to stay overnight somewhere for 1 or 2 nights, separate rooms probably wouldn’t be an issue. We have up to 10 crews (1 electrician, 1 apprentice each) staying out of town 4 nights per week for several MONTHS at a time. Separate rooms for each employee ranging from $70 to $150 per night, depending on the area and the time of year (we are in Florida), would be cost prohibitive. If we were to allow each employee to have his/her own room, one of two things would happen: 1) if we bid the projects with this additional cost included, we wouldn’t be getting anymore out of town work and we would eventually go out of business; or 2) we would be lose so much money on every project we worked on if it was not included and, in time, we would go out of business. As I said in my previous post, this is a common practice in the construction industry for exactly the reasons stated above.

    Also, as I said before, all applicants are made aware of this policy during the interview. If they would have an issue with sharing a room with another employee, they can decline to work here.

  • Susan L

    Somehow, we have strayed from the issue about personal health issues when sharing a room. Gee, the last time I checked, hotel rooms have restrooms with doors that lock. If you need to take medication, orally or by injection, the availabilty of privacy is there. It may not be convenient (but since when has a hotel ever been!), but it is not unreasonable. As far as the meds themselves go, they can be kept them in a case or travel bag. If they are displayed on the counter, dresser, nightstand or whatever, as far as I’m concerned, that person’s privacy was voluntarily surrendered.

    re: Lynn’s post where she mentions sexual orientation – if someone makes an advance toward another employee, that’s sexual harassment. If one of the employees invites
    “entertainment” to the room, well, let’s not open that can of worms here. I don’t know of any company that would condone that type of behavior and if it does, perhaps it would be time to look for employment elsewhere.

    re: Rhonda’s post – in your scenario, I would hope whoever is in charge of making the hotel arrangements would have enough foresight to see a potential problem and would book separate rooms for each employee. If that is not financially feasible, then maybe different or fewer people should go – based on seniority and position within the company, of course.

    To those who don’t want to dress/undress in front of someone else, ditto on the restroom. You like to sleep nude? Well, sometimes small sacrifices have to be made.

    Now, if some company was to make you share the same bed – that would be going over the line…

  • tj bone

    I use a C-Pap Machine to sleep at nights. It would be very embarrassing if my co-workers had to see this.

  • Susan

    Re: tj bone – You may be covered under the ADA, where a separate room would be a reasonable accommodation. The potential of an ADA violation is mentioned in the story.
    I would think that if an employee had a medical condition that would unavoidably be disclosed to a co-worker by sharing a room, that person would talk to HR about a separate room. (Unless a medical condition is disclosed on a post-job medical questionnaire, medical exam, etc., the company cannot be expected to know about any and all medical conditions that may require an accommodation.) The company would probably be legally obligated to provide a separate room under the ADA.
    If an employee wanted a separate room based simply on personal preference, the company is under no legal obligation to do so.

  • kerry

    Look, I think to make coworkers room together on trips that are not a common place (IE conferences) is fine. But to make and expect coworkers to room together in a hotel room is pathetic to squeeze a buck out. If you provide meals for these coworkers I am sure that they would gladly “bring” lunches to get this “luxury” of having their own private rooms. It’s bad enough to be away from their families almost 10 months out of the year-but making them room with someone…that sucks. The army makes you do that-but then YOU are considered GOVERNMENT property then. I think that a company that has no consideration for their coworkers in this sense will try to squeeze bucks out of other areas…let me guess they check your bags to make sure you didn’t accidently take a pen home with you…I think that simple things like having their own rooms make it better for the coworkers. To have to room with someone else especially in the oil field business is crappy. What if you room with an alcoholic…great now you do have privacy in the bathroom but who wants to deal with that?

  • Susan

    Kerry – many companies that are requiring their employees to room together are not necessarily trying to “squeeze a buck out”. Your sarcasm screams that you are not an HR professional.
    Some companies may simply not be able to afford it; some companies, such as mine, it is necessary to remain competitive. We have as many as 10 2-man crews out of town Monday through Friday for several months at a time. The construction business in Florida is very competitive – to the point that it is becoming cutthroat. We absolutely must bid jobs as competitively as we can to get any work. Per Diem for meals and hotel rooms is included in these bids. Our crews must share a room. It’s not a matter of saving money – it’s a matter of getting the work and making at least some profit. As much as some people may not like to hear this, businesses are in business to make a profit. This is how they stay in business and their employees keep their jobs. Until you have owned your own business, you may not understand how hard it can be to do this. So don’t bash every employer for requiring their employees to share a room out of financial necessity for the few slimeball employers out there that are just being cheap!

  • Cynthia

    This issue just came up at our company so I very much appreciate all of your insights and thoughts. We have never required room sharing in the past, but the current economic situation has caused our company to reconsider for an upcoming conference that we are hosting. Several staff members will have to be in attendance. I very much relate to the “loner.” I am an introvert and as host of the conference and on-stage moderator, the 12-14 hour days of being constantly “on” are inordinately draining for me. To have the privacy of my room in which to relax, meditate, practice my introductions out loud is a necessity for me. I have often shared hotel rooms with sisters, neices, and close girlfriends while on vacation. No problem with that because I didn’t have to prepare for anything. And while I respect the financial necessity in many of these situations, sharing a room in this situation is going to inhibit my ability to come to the work of the day spiritually and emotionally refreshed.

  • Maria Santos

    I am a small business owner and i would like to see more room sharing. I send two ladies out of town a lot and they stay in separate rooms.
    That makes me madd as hell. If they have a problem with sharing a room at least they should let me know before i make the reservations.

    Maria

  • Susan Reed

    I just returned from a company conference at which I not only had to share a hotel room, but I had to share the same bed with a co-worker (of the same sex). The hotel had several months notice of our group reservation and the need for each room to have 2 beds; however, when I checked into the hotel, I was informed that they only had king rooms available, thus meaning that I would be sharing a BED with my so-worker. (I arrived at 10 am, so it wasn’t like I was a late arrival). I was VERY up-set and requested a private room at my own expense, but they said they were totally sold out. I’m not sure this was completely the hotels fault or if it was just sloppy planning on the companies part.
    I would have made a huge fuss and complained to whoever I could, but in this economy, I was afraid of losing my job.
    I was and still am very up-set and traumatized from the entire situation.
    Personaly I think this is completely unacceptable and should NEVER have been happened.

  • flowjoe64

    THIS IS RIDICULOUS. AN INVASION OF PERSONAL PRIVACY AND TRAVESTY. FOR A COMPANY TO DICTATE THAT YOUR PERSONAL AFTER HOURS SPACE AND BATHROOM MUST BE SHARED WITH EITHER A STRANGER< SOMEONE WHOS HYGIENCE YOU HAVE NO HISTORY OF,AND SOMEONE WHO’s MORNING RITUALS MAY PREVENT YOU FROM EVEN HAVING ACCESS TO A BATHROOM WHEN YOU DECIDE YOU NEED IT, OR WHEN NATURE CALLS. FORCING ME TO BE ON MY BEST BEHAVIOR< EVEN IN MY DOWN TIME< AND BEING AWOKEN IN THE MORNING BY ANOTHER PERSON IN MY ROOM< WHO MAY GET UP AT THE CRACK OF DAWN…MAY SNORE< KEEPING ME AWAKE…MAY FART ONGOINGLY… AND THEN THE MALE COUNTERPARTS, WHO ARE FEW, AND THE MANAGERS..GET THEIR OWN PERSONAL ROOMS??? WOW, THAT SHOWS A TOTAL LACK OF RESPECT FOR THE EMPLOYEE, AND WOULD ALSO SHOW YOU HOW LITTLE YOU ARE VALUED AS A PROFESSIONAL. I WILL PAY THE EXTRA $40 BUCKS A DAY OR WHATEVER THE MINISCULE DIFFERENCE IS, FOR ME TO HAVE MY OWN SPACE. NONE OF THESE HR PEOPLE WILL AGREE, AS THEY ARE PID BY THE COMPANY AND DO NOT CARE ABOUT HAIVNG A HAPPY EMPLOYEE. THEY ARE ALWAYS THERE T PROTECT THE COMPANYS INTEREST, NOT THE EMPLOYEES (UNLESS YOU FORCE THEM TO BY USING A LEGAL ISSUE THEY MIGHT BE COMPELLED TO HONOR)

    YOU HR PEOPLE ARE ALL COMPLETELY INSANE. COMPLETELY DISHONORABLE, POTENTIALLY DEMEANING THING TO REQUIRE OUT OF AN EMPLOYEE. WE ARE NOT YOUR SLAVES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • wshope

    What i really need to know is there a law stating that they can make me stay with another employee… If not I need some kind of publication stating so. Thank you

  • Kathy

    flowjoe64 – I have no idea what would make you think that the concept of sharing a room is HR’s idea. For the most part, feedback on this site is contributed by HR professionals and frankly, I’m reading a whole lot of “no thanks to sharing”. So, we are not insane nor are we dishonorable. And I am so insulted by your last sentence, I can’t even bring myself to address it. Perhaps if you took some time to actually read through the comments, you would have understood the content.

    Three years ago, the entire eastern region of HR professionals were attending a company-required conference in Colorado. We were required to share rooms. However, if you were willing to pay the difference (and rooms were available), or if you had a medical reason for not sharing, you could have a private room. I was absolutely appalled at this policy. With so few private rooms available, I decided to save those for people who really needed them and just went with the program. I was fortunate to be roomed with a terrific HR buddy from another state. We had a lot in common and had a great time. But horror stories did abound, including the one who roomed with the guy who snored all night long.

    With the amazing array of electronic opportunities we have available to us, if a company can’t afford private rooms, then perhaps video conferencing is a better option.

  • http://sbtranspo.com RJ

    I worked for the Prosecutors Office a few years back and every year for the annual conference, employees always had to double up on hotel rooms. Imagine my astonishment after being there only 1 1/2 weeks before the first conference I attended was to begin and being told I had to share a room with, at that time, a complete stranger! During the next few years, I never got used to it and never looked forward to attending the mandatory conferences. With such a young office, the comings and goings throughout the night were ridiculous! And, yes, each year during the weeks after the conference there were many “transfers”, “suspensions” and “resignations to pursue other endeavors.” I, for one, am not a big fan of sharing hotel rooms with co-workers.

  • Jim

    I work for a company that typically provides separate rooms for employees when they travel, but they have decided to change the rules for an upcoming conference. The reason given was to save money. I was never notified that this was going to be the case when I was asked if I wanted to go to this conference. In fact they are providing individual rooms for certain employees for a portion of the conference. Is there a tact full way of questioning this decision as they have established a precedent with previous business trips and is this legal?

  • Becky

    I can understand the need in some instances to share rooms. Such as the person from Florida saying it would be cost prohibitive. I would rather share a room and have a job!!
    On the other side of the coin, I think what is good for the employees is good for the management. We just had a couple weeks of training at our Corporate office and were told we would have to share rooms. I really did not want to do that. I have no health issues or bathroom issues. To make a long story short, after the training was over our CFO and Regional Managers came to town and low and behold, they did not have to share a room.
    I think what is good for one is good for all. I think that just showed a lack of character and made the employees realize how undervalued they really are.

  • kassie

    Is it legal for a company to force opposite sex employees to share a room?

  • frank

    We are crossing this bridge right now. My question is: They are requiring department heads to share rooms with subordinates (It fell that way due to same sex rooms). As a department head, are wet putting ourselves in a situation where a subordinate could falsely accuse a supervisor of inappropriate actions. Then this Department head/supervisor’s career could be devastated. There would be no witness no way to combat the accusation. Then the company would also be included in a lawsuit for forcing the room sharing?? Am I off Base with this…seems like basic risk management would avoid supervisors “Sleeping” with subordinates??

  • kristie

    I work for a company where out of town travel occurs two to three nights a week. We are three to one female to male. We travel many hours in vehicles, perform our jobs, and then are required to share rooms. More often than not the men get their own rooms and women share. We have one employee who always gets his own room due to excessive snoring. Is this fair treatment, as I myself have been accused of loud sleeping habits, and am not getting my own room. The other alternative is the snoring man usually is not assigned on mobiles requiring overnight travel as often as the rest of us. I understand trying to save money, and I am more than willing to do my part. When one employee is treated differently from the rest it can cause some disgruntled employees. We also have a male and female employee who are dating and they are given a room to share together. What are the legal rights to all employees on these matters. Thanks

  • jb

    How about suites? Some suite hotels cost almost the same as a regular room and there are two rooms. Executive Suites Hotels is one that does that. They may not be right where the conference is but are usually in a quite and safe environment. That would be the best of both worlds…

  • luis

    I have a training travel and we have to share the room 3 people per room and they pretend to forse one of us to share the same bed with a coworker-Is it legal for a company to force 2 employees to share the same bed?

  • NoShareForMe

    I think forced co-worker room sharing should be outlawed unless employees give their express written consent. Privacy of all employees who are required to travel should simply be part of the cost of doing business. If the company cannot afford single rooms for ALL employees, then perhaps they should live within their means and figure out another way to achieve their business goals. It’s just downright disgusting to be forced into a shared hotel room. I mean using the same toilet, using the same shower without the benefit of seat liners or cleaning supplies to help protect against catching something nasty? YUK! Not to mention having all of one’s personal belongings unsecurable against this other person with a room key who may be inclined to snoop or worse, “entertain others.”

    I’ve been going to conferences for 15+ years and the horror stories you hear are true and worse… For some reason people act differently when they are away from home – drinking alcohol excessively, sleeping around more, snooping, etc. The level of infidelity among those who claim they are married is truly mind boggling. But maybe I’m just old-fashioned or sheltered. I’ve known some seriously catty people who love to have “dirt” on a co-worker (what size underwear does she wear? bra size? what’s in her make-up bag?) You get the idea. With the advent of cell phone cameras and small digital camera’s, nothing is sacred. When was the last time you felt comfortable changing in the locker room of your local gym? All this is in addition to one’s personal habits (snoring, masturbating, inappropriately long showers, etc.) that should remain private, don’t you agree? I have heard it all! I feel sorry for the person who posted she has a reputation as a “loud sleeper” after room-sharing. I’m sure she is treated accordingly now at the office. A person’s privacy should not be compromised for the benefit of any business – to do so is akin to a mild form of slavery. It’s simply bad for business to force co-workers to share sleeping rooms, no matter how much money the company thinks it’s saving.

  • Shelly

    I have worked for several companies that required employees to share rooms and some that did not. I prefer having my own room but would share if asked. I never had a problem sharing a room as long as it was with someone I knew and not someone I had never met. I also believe that management should never share rooms so confidential information they have will not be inadvertently shared. As for the cost of rooms, I think individual rooms are a cost of doing business and when I would book rooms for travel I could usually negotiate a better rate for more rooms.

    I had a few bad experiences with having to share rooms, girls who talk on the phone half the night, take too long to get ready, different sleeping habits, morning routines, etc but managed to get through them. The worse experience was when I started working for a company whose training center for new employees was out of town. I was booked to share a room with a girl from another town whom I did not know. I arrived early in the day and her flight was delayed and she did not arrive until around 9 that night. I had been to a dinner and was having drinks with others in the hotel bar til around 11. When I got to the room she was there and already asleep in bed. The next morning I realized she was a he and I had shared a room with the opposite sex. Fortunately nothing happened but it was somewhat disturbing and I still get picked on by some fellow coworkers about sleeping with Stacy. I was told they thought he was a girl by his name and the person booking the travel never confirmed.

  • Stacy

    I think forcing employees to share rooms and bathrooms is wrong unless the employees are OK with it and the employer lets them know in advance. I live alone and cannot sleep with someone else in the room. I also am an early riser, take extra time to get ready in the morning, and it would be unfair to someone else to have to listen to my hairdryer. I also don’t want someone else walking into the bathroom after I’ve used the toilet or vice versa. I get along great with all my co workers and am friends with several of them – but that doesn’t mean I want to share a room or bathroom with any of them.

    Forcing employees to share rooms does not increase closeness or bonding among employees but instead creates resentment towards management. I’ve seen too many companies show an appalling lack of sensitivity to how people feel about this issue and in many cases the employees don’t find out until AFTER they arrive at the event or hotel. I’ve seen companies book hotel rooms with no airconditioning, and push joint activities such as swimming (not everyone is comfortable in front of co workers in a bathing suit), doing hot sweaty outdoor activities, or activities like gun shooting, etc. that some don’t want to participate in. Employers really should think these things trhough better than they do.

  • http://brentsblog.com brent

    I was at a conference/sports tourney for the university or school I was working for. I was still a student at the school at the time but also worked for the university part time as a sport/recreation staff. I was a referee and everyone had to share rooms. I really did not think it was that bad of an idea considering we were all going to be busy all day well, i come to find out that not only are we all sharing rooms we are all sharing beds too with strangers which i think is ridiculous. I never asked directly why it was like this but the school’s excuse was that there was not enough rooms. This may have been true at the hotel we were staying at. I think the university was getting a deal for the rooms or something. But there was a ton of hotels down the street which I am 99% sure they had rooms. If i would have known that there was going to be 4 to a room share I actually would have gladly paid and planned for my own room or not gone at all.

  • Barnett

    I accepted an offer for a job and the company got me a hotel room for several days for training. I never even checked in because now I have to go out of state for a death in the family and may have to decline the offer altogether. Though they haven’t said anything, do I have to pay for the room?

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