Ryanair and Monarch flight disruptions: five issues for employers

AIDAN CRAWLEY/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock
AIDAN CRAWLEY/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

The cancellation of thousands of scheduled Ryanair flights and the collapse of airline Monarch will have an impact in the workplace, particularly when employees’ holiday plans are affected. How should employers tackle workplace issues arising from the flight disruptions caused by Ryanair and Monarch’s woes?

1. Employees seeking to cancel or amend holiday dates

One potential scenario is an employee who has already booked flights with Ryanair or Monarch being forced to cancel or change the dates of a trip.

In these circumstances, do employers have to agree to employees’ requests to cancel or change annual leave dates that have already been agreed?

Technically, employers are not obliged to agree to change booked periods of annual leave (unless employees have a contractual right to cancel leave).

However, it is good employee relations to allow leave dates to be amended where there is a valid reason and the needs of the business permit it.

The cancellation of flights is an instance where employers should be flexible when employees wish to amend leave.

 

2. Employees getting stranded because of flight cancellations

As a general rule, employees who have an unplanned absence when they are expected to be at work are not automatically entitled to be paid.

This is because the onus is on employees to get to work and the obligation to pay them under their contracts of employment arises only where they are ready, willing and available for work.

If employees fail to turn up for work because of flight cancellations, the employer is under no obligation to pay them for time not worked, even though their absence was through no fault of their own.

There are a number of options open to employers to solve this problem, including asking employees if they would like to take the time they are absent as annual leave (provided the notice requirements to make workers take leave on particular dates are followed).

 

3. Employees working flexibly when stranded because of flight cancellations

If employees are unable to get to work because of flight disruptions over which they have no control, employers may wish to employ flexible working practices.

Winter Ryanair cancellations

On 27 September 2017, Ryanair announced that it was suspending 34 routes from November 2017 to March 2018.

These include Gatwick to Belfast, Stansted to Edinburgh and Stansted to Glasgow.

The changes affect 400,000 passengers.

As it is now common for employees to have computers with them on annual leave, one viable option may be requesting that staff work remotely.

On returning to work, shifts could be swapped or employees could agree to work extra hours to make up lost time (provided that working time rules, for example those on rest and the 48-hour working week, are observed).

 

4. Employees putting their safety at risk to get back to work in time

It is easy to imagine a dangerous scenario after an employer adopts an over-zealous approach towards an employee who is having difficulty getting back to work because of flight disruptions.

An employee stranded somewhere who is threatened with disciplinary action if they do not turn up for work on time might attempt a long car journey, and drive for a longer period than is safe.

In those circumstances, the employer could be breaching its duty of care towards the employee if its approach leads to the employee putting him- or herself in danger.

 

5. Employees’ business trips being affected by flight disruptions

Monarch collapse

On 2 October 2017, it was announced that airline Monarch was being placed in administration and ceasing business with immediate effect.

The move affected 110,000 customers already abroad, with 750,000 future bookings also cancelled.

What are employers’ obligations if an employee’s flights are disrupted while he or she is on a work-related trip?

The extent of an employer’s responsibility for paying an employee’s expenses if a business trip is extended due to flight disruption will depend on its expenses policy.

Most policies will include a requirement for the expenses to be “reasonable”.

It is therefore highly likely that the employer would be required to pay for the additional expense of rearranging travel and other extra expenses incurred (for example accommodation and subsistence) until the employee is able to return home.

The employee should remain in contact with the employer to provide updates on the options for his or her travel and, where possible, obtain prior authorisation for any expenditure.

Stephen Simpson

About Stephen Simpson

Stephen Simpson is a principal employment law editor at XpertHR. His areas of responsibility include the policies and documents and law reports. After obtaining a law degree and training to be a solicitor, he moved into publishing, initially with Butterworths. He joined XpertHR in its early days in 2001.
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