Closing the door on sharing rooms — or beds — during work travel

Editor’s Note: ‘Happy Hour’ is an HR Dive column from Reporter Ginger Christ. Follow along as she dives into some of the offbeat news in the HR space.

Would you share a room with a co-worker? How about a bed? 

As a regular reader of consultant Alison Green’s website, where she offers readers advice on a variety of normal and not-so-normal work conundrums, I audibly gasped when I read about an employee who was asked to share a bed with a colleague on a work trip. 

In previous jobs, I’ve traveled quite a lot for work, and never have I been asked to share a room, let alone a bed. I’m a terrible sleeper, and I don’t even share beds with close friends when we travel together. My co-workers are lovely humans, but it’s still a no for me. 

In this case, the workers were assigned to a room with one bed and a small pull-out couch. Green advises the worker that sharing a bed is “not okay, period. It doesn’t matter if you’re willing to do it. It doesn’t matter if they’re trying to save money. Assigning people to share beds with colleagues is beyond the pale.” 

Green also notes that it’s reasonable to tell an employer that sharing a room can be difficult for those with medical needs that require privacy, who have specific sleeping needs or who snore. 

Even when employees don’t share rooms, there’s already enough possibility for lawsuits during work travel. For example, in 2019, a salesperson with a sleeping disorder, somnambulism, sued her healthcare employer for firing her after she sleepwalked into a male co-worker’s room and got into bed. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held in 2022 that the company didn’t violate the Americans with Disabilities Act because it didn’t fire the worker for her condition but instead for her behavior while sleepwalking. But still, the company was tied up in lawsuits for years, and workers were put in uncomfortable situations.

I turned to Jeff Haven, a corporate trainer and keynote speaker on leadership, innovation and culture building, for his insight on colleagues being asked to share rooms. 

“You are just walking into any number of harassment accusations that may or may not be valid. It’s a minefield of problems that’s not worth the $130 you’re saving on a hotel room. The lawsuit will be way more expensive. Just don’t do it,” Haven said. 

Haven characterized sharing rooms as a breach of etiquette in privacy for employees. In a workplace, typically, employees have their own computer or workspace. Sharing a room goes against that autonomy and creates awkward situations for workers when they need to use the restroom, shower, sleep or talk to family. 

“My opinion certainly is that everybody should have a zero tolerance policy for being forced to share a room when they travel with someone they didn’t agree to share a room with,” Haven said. “If you’re going to share a room, next it’s a bed. Is the company required to pay for the child care that comes next? I feel like the company should be responsible for paying for college.” 

Please let me disassociate in peace and fall asleep with my iPad on my face alone. Sweet dreams!