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In my country, there is a law allowing an employee to decline to travel for business reasons when their child is under 4 years old. Because of this law, I must be asked to opt-in to travel.

Travel details: This will likely be a few days (3-5 days) to discuss: what our company plans to achieve and which direction to go. Nothing crucial for me, I'm NOT a key player of the team. The travel is planned for all team members (5 people) to the HQ.

Can refusing to go be seen as having a bad attitude?

Side note: the company is a "travel business" company itself, i.e. the trip (locomotion) is free for employer/employee, the only employer is about to pay is extra money and accommodation in HQ for each traveling employee.

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    Could you manage one day perhaps as a compromise? – Ed Heal Dec 16 '16 at 12:03
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    Is this type of trip supposed to happen frequently, or is this a one-time thing? If the latter, I would probably try to make it work. – David K Dec 16 '16 at 13:05
  • @MisterPositive I think it could be edited to match the new version but keep in mind that when you find yourself writing "I would do X" that's a clear sign that the question is probably problematic. "The risk of [action] is [consequences]" or "Doing [action] could be seen as [bad thing] and normally you're expected to [options]" makes for better answers as these posts are intended to be useful to other people beyond the OP. – Lilienthal Dec 16 '16 at 15:19
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    @MarianPaździoch So do you actually have a family reason for not going or do you simply not want to go and realised that your employer legally can't make you go? You could argue that you'd be abusing the spirit of these laws and adding to the poor reputation that new parents have in the workplace. – Lilienthal Dec 16 '16 at 15:21
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Presenting problems without trying to present solutions is the sign of a bad attitude - if you just walk into your boss's office and say "I'm not going. You can't make me", don't expect it to be well received. Instead, try something like

Hi boss. As you know, I've got a small child and I'd rather not be away from them and my partner for all that time. Would it be possible for me to be video conferenced into the talks instead?

Now, you're trying to find a way to make this work for both you and your employer. Stepping back a bit, "working to rule" is in the long run probably not going to be good for your career, even if you're legally entitled to - at the very least, if you stick to the letter of the law, don't expect your employer to show you flexibility when you ask for it.

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I have had staff decline a business trip for personal or family reasons. When it's one trip, I get it. Your mother's birthday, or your sister's anniversary, or being the one to put your baby to bed every night, is more important than this trip. Let's talk about how to get you the information, or how to get your ideas shared, or whatever else we were going to gain from the trip, without you having to go. Or, let's find some out-of-the-box ways to make it work. I had an employee with a little baby who turned a conference trip into a family trip - in the daytime the other parent (who was on parental leave) hung out in the luxury hotel with the baby and did some sightseeing while my employee was at the conference with me. Evenings they spent as a family and the baby was put to bed just as at home, with both parents. Another handled the clash between a conference and a family vacation plan by having the vacation in the conference city (which happened to be Orlando) and again spending the days at the conference and the evenings with family. The weekend before and after the conference were 24 hour family time, and we covered the hotel and the cost of one flight.

However, if you are going to decline every trip of any length forever, this may limit you. I had a staff member who needed more skills - we are a consulting company and old skills lose value and everyone must gain new ones. I had a specific skill in mind that the company needed. No training for it was available online or in our town. The employee said that a week out of town for training was never going to be ok for family reasons. Fine, but that means the employee will never gain that skill. There aren't that many other staff. How can I be sure the company has all the skills we need? It may be that this person just can't work here, nice as they are, smart as they are, if they can't do the training to gain the skills that I can sell. This example is less relevant now with the rise of online training, but imagine a travel agent who can never go to the places the firm sells ... personal experience is highly relevant in that industry. Or someone at a strategy-setting level in a firm who can never go to meetings with international partners. You may limit yourself if you decline all trips forever.

Does that mean declining this trip today will torpedo your career? Of course not. But for your own sake, try to work out something that will get you some of the benefit of attending, and show that you care about it. That might mean calling in, it might mean talking to someone who is attending both before (to provide your opinions) and after (to learn what happened) the trip. Not caring about important business events is a far bigger negative than whether or not you're able to attend them.

And a tip (though I understand you may not talk to your boss in English) please decline the generous offer of a lovely trip and a chance to learn strategic information about company plans rather than refuse to go to something your boss wants you to go to. Trust me, it helps. "Thanks for the opportunity, but I can't take advantage of it this time" will always be better than "I'm not doing that and you can't force me to".

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    Does that mean declining this trip today will torpedo your career? Of course not. One thing I've learned from this SE is that reasonable behavior from bosses isn't completely a given. +1 for the last paragraph though. Selling the idea softly mitigates potential impact. – Myles Dec 16 '16 at 14:25
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit: Although in this case (as per first paragraph of the question) it is not an instruction that the boss is legally allowed to make. – Jack Aidley Dec 16 '16 at 15:30
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit: I disagree. This is not a request from the asker, it is a statement of fact: he will be exercising his legal right not to travel. The boss does not have the right to make the instruction and so should not be treated like they do. – Jack Aidley Dec 16 '16 at 15:59
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    @JackAidley: You really should read Kate's answer. Philip's too, actually. You are factually correct, but the answer to the OP's question is that, yes, such an attitude will come off as "bad". There are far more diplomatic and professional ways to respond to the request, and those ways will be far more beneficial to your career prospects and social standing, than going around stomping your feet screaming "you can't make me!" – Lightness Races in Orbit Dec 16 '16 at 16:03
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    @Lightness I get what you're saying, but I don't think showing some appreciation for the opportunity is a bad thing, particularly if it was for a training session like in Kate's example. Personally, I genuinely appreciate someone else paying me to learn new skills; it's a win for both parties. As far as the response, though, maybe something more along these lines would be better: "I appreciate the opportunity for the training in x, but due to y issue, the scheduling is not good for me to travel at that time. Could we arrange to do z that would help me learn x instead?" – reirab Dec 17 '16 at 6:34
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I am a single father in the tech field. I have had the exact same issue. I can usually find times to go to critical travel events - especially ones where I can pick the timing. I go when my kid is out of school and can stay with a friend, have her go see her mother (I have custody but her mom's still in the state and is good for short visits), etc. - but last year my company had a week-long engineering kickoff overseas at another company location during a school week and I couldn't go. Well, I could have - I could have imposed really hard on the other parents-of-her-friends I already impose on, or had her fend for herself for a week (she's old enough that it's legal here) - but in my judgement it was best not to.

To mitigate the effects, I was proactive in trying to make it up:

  1. Let them know way ahead of time of my restriction - in fact I put my two cents in on the scheduling of the kickoff when I heard it was in the offing. (I brought it up during the hiring process and waited for the "Oh yes family's most important" answer before taking the job. It doesn't mean you can then do whatever, but if a company doesn't at least say that then you're on a short path.)
  2. Showed lots of regret that I couldn't go. Asked if the meetings there could be WebExed or whatnot so I could participate remotely (they weren't).
  3. Immediately traveled to that other location as soon as I could (when the kid was off for Spring Break) to meet the people there and build relationships.

But does it still have some residual effect against your career? Yes, of course it does. It's part of the tradeoffs you make in life. I've passed up lucrative gigs in Silicon Valley because I want my daughter to be able to visit her mom and have a stable life (friends, school, etc.).

So you have to be smart about it. Pass when you have to but go when you can. To be honest, "my partner has to care for a kid for a week on her own" is not a compelling reason not to go in my opinion (I and about a million other people have cared for a kid solo for many years straight), but peoples' values and abilities vary.

Just participate as much as you reasonably can, make it up where you can, and be smart about the tradeoffs you make.

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    This is the truth. We make sacrifices for our families. Great answer. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Dec 16 '16 at 20:55
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It's hard to say. It depends on how you go about asking, what you are prepared to do for the team that's valuable to them while they are traveling and how much flexibility is built into your refusal to go. And also whether you and the team have a good relationship. And what the back story is behind your desire not to go.

"Nothing crucial for me neither, I'm NOT a key player of the team." Your opinion does not matter. What matters is the opinion of the team and of your management. They are the ones who have to agree that it is not crucial for the team and for the management that you be participating on that trip. If their opinion is at variance with yours, then their opinion wins. Even if you are not a key member of the team, they still might have their own reasons for wanting you to go.

If you are simply using the fact that your child is under 4 so that you don't have to travel, that won't go over well with your other team members and your management, a number of whom probably have children under 4. And note that these other team members must make their own day care arrangements for the trip. Having said that, if I were a single parent, I'd simply say "Unless it is important to you - team and management - that I be on the trip, I'd rather not go because I am a single parent and no one is really around if my child has an emergency".

Even if you are not a single parent, day care arrangements have been known to fall through. Children can also get sick and they can get hurt at the last minute, etc. As an Asian American, I don't recommend two-parent families as the ideal day care arrangement under all circumstances - we usually have an array of siblings, older relatives, in-laws and even nieces and nephews who are willing to step in and help. Ditto for Hispanic families. I think anyone who has children under 4 and goes on a trip - that someone is really hoping that things go well while they are absent from home.

If you are willing to back the entire team while they are gone (*), that will make a difference in how they perceive your desire not to go. Refusal to go is a different animal because refusal reflects an uncompromising attitude, and an uncompromising attitude is unlikely to be perceived as anything but unhelpful. If the team and management perceive that they make sacrifices and take risks while you are not, that may color their perception of your refusal to go and by extension, of you.

(*) As the stay-back member of the team, you could offer to be the contact for family emergencies for the team and offer as much assistance as possible to their families while the team is traveling.

  • Excellent point to offer to back the team and be point of contact for family emergencies while staying behind. Having one team member teleconferencing to the event can raise the question of "why not all teleconference," but I've been in many situations where an unforeseen work circumstance leaves me thanking (or wishing for) a colleague "holding down the fort" at the main office. – newcoder Dec 18 '16 at 4:23
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Several good answers that I won't argue with except the implication (perhaps not intended) that the OP needs to figure out a way to show dedication to the job. That's true in a way, but if you decide that your family is more important than promotions and so on, I commend you.

However, such a decision means accepting the consequences. The law says there are no consequences, but laws can only prescribe, not control. There are at least five possible reactions:

The boss might think like me--the attitude is commendable.

The boss might not like it but still want to keep a valuable employee.

The boss might not like it, but think, 'Well, we can't fire them, so let's just forget about it.'

The boss (or co-workers) might make things unpleasant until you want to quit and do it in a way you can't prove they broke the law.

The boss might figure out a reason to fire you that isn't against the law.

  • You may also need to choose a different employer, position in the company, or perhaps even career if this becomes a regular issue. – Brian Knoblauch Dec 16 '16 at 19:01
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The fact that such a law exists in your country and applies without exception to all employees (single, married, etc.) means that that your society has made a general judgment on balancing parental care for children w.r.t. work responsibilities that is different from countries where such laws do not exist. In e.g. the US where there are no such laws, the availability of child care facilities will typically be better due to higher demand, making it easier for the remaining parent to stick to his/her working hours when being the single caretaker for a while. Also, the tax rate will be a lower so that parents can more easily afford to pay for extra child care.

What system is better is a political discussion, but what is important for this question is to take into account that societal norms will be different in the different countries where the laws are different, and the available infrastructure for child care will also be different. This means that in your case it may well be appropriate just opt out of the business trip without elaborating on the details of your personal situation, while in the exact same situation in the US this would be totally inappropriate.

The best way to find out is to consider how parents in your country deal with such a situation. It could be that it is actually the norm to elaborate a bit on why you want to opt out. Or it may well be that this is not the norm as the intention of the law could have been to remove any peer pressure felt by parents in such situations (e.g. in many countries women postpone having children to a late age or decide to not have children at all, laws have been passed to counteract this development).

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