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Are employees entitled to change their holiday if their flight gets cancelled?

Friday, 05 Aug 2022

2022 has been a year of international travel chaos. Thousands of flights from UK airports have been postponed or cancelled, with London Gatwick the worst offender – cancelling more than 3% of scheduled flights in the first seven months of the year.

Cancelled flights aren’t just frustrating and stressful for holidaymakers; they have a knock-on impact on people’s annual leave bookings. Already this year, many employers have been faced with last minute holiday change requests and even office no-shows as a result of delayed returning flights.

To help your business manage travel disruptions, we’ve put together some of the most common questions around flight cancellations and employee rights.

Can employees change their annual leave at short notice?

What is an annual leave policy?

While there is a minimum legal entitlement to how much time off employees can take each year, there are no official restrictions on how early or late annual leave can be booked. It’s at your company’s discretion how much notice staff should give when they book or amend time off, and is often set out in your contract or company leave policy.

Of course, there are circumstances beyond people’s control that impact annual leave bookings, and flight cancellations fall into this category. It’s not your employee’s fault that the airline axed their flight and can only rebook them on an alternative flight 2-3 days’ later.

In an unpreventable situation like flight cancellations, your company may choose to let team members change their holiday dates at short notice. However, you will need to consider multiple factors before making special dispensation, such as:

  • How many days employees wish to change
  • Who else has already booked time off during their new holiday period
  • Which staff members still working will be impacted by their colleague’s change of dates
  • Whether any important meetings or deadlines will be affected

From there, you can make a judgement call on rebooking your employee’s holiday booking.

The same discretion applies to employees who want to cancel their full annual leave at the last minute and rebook for later in the year – for example, if their airline can’t provide them with an immediate alternative flight.

Employers have no legal obligation to sanction short notice holiday cancellations, although it’s worth noting that if you want your staff to be amenable and go the extra mile, you should show them same courtesy where possible.

Are employees entitled to extra holiday if their flights home get cancelled?

A cancelled departing flight may frustrate your employee, but as an employer you still have control over the situation. It’s much harder to manage your response if a team member is due to return to work on a certain date but doesn’t turn up due to travel issues.

Although return flight cancellations aren’t the employee’s fault, legally your company is not obliged to give them additional paid time off. In reality, there are three possible options you can pursue:

  1. Ask employees to use their remaining annual leave to cover the additional time off – this way, they still get paid for their time off work.
  2. Ask employees to take the time as unpaid leave – for example, if it’s nearing the end of the holiday year and they don’t have any annual leave left to use.
  3. If your style of operation allows, agreeing with the staff member to make up the time they were delayed when back at work.
  4. Encourage staff to work remotely – if they have the kind of job that can be done without being face-to-face and they’ve taken their laptop on holiday.

There may be other elements to your annual leave policy that you can explore, such as getting staff to use accrued time off in lieu (TOIL) to cover travel delays.

What if employees are travelling for business?

The guidance we’ve shared applies to staff that have experienced delays or cancellations to personal flights. If an employee is travelling for business, your company will need to take a more hands-on approach.

The general expectation for extended business trips is that employees will continue to be paid for extra days away. Most staff will have taken the tools they need to do their job (laptops, cables, plug adapters etc.) so will usually be able to work remotely until their rescheduled flight.

If a cancelled business flight means employees lose out on their weekend or entitled time off, you may wish to consider some form of compensation for the inconvenience. This doesn’t have to be financial; some companies offer TOIL for work trips that will mean being away on a non-working day.

Leave management policies

How can your company manage last minute travel changes effectively?

Even with careful advance planning, sometimes the holiday calendar can throw your business a curveball. And in these situations, the way in which you manage time off affects how easy it is to make last minute decisions.

Many companies have adopted an online leave management system for tracking and updating staff vacation to avoid complex changes and errors. An online portal makes it much simpler to see who’s booked time off, track changes and cancellations, see how much annual leave they have remaining, and which colleagues will be affected by changes to their holiday dates – to avoid upsets and calendar clashes.

Businesses are using WhosOff to log staff leave online, providing a clear, centralised holiday calendar that every person in the business can access. Through WhosOff, companies can see the impact of short notice holiday changes and make an informed decision as to whether employees can change their holiday dates as a result of cancelled flights and other unforeseen circumstances. Keeping as many team members as possible happy.

Try WhosOff for free to see how easily your company can manage staff holiday online.

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Photo by Nick Fewings of Pexels.com

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Posted by Tony Bushell

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