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JGM, Solicitor
Category: Law
Satisfied Customers: 12076
Experience:  30 years as a practising solicitor.
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can my employer compel me to fly in airliner seats which are

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can my employer compel me to fly in airliner seats which are too small when i have repeatedly complained about the resulting pain and discomfort, especially when larger seats are available, albeit in Business Class?
Thank you for your question.
What do you mean the GP report was inconclusive?
And are you saying that you were originally allowed to fly business class as a matter of contract but they changed this?
-Could you explain your situation a little more?
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

I had consulted my GP about lower back pain some time before this problem arose. It is a soft-tissue problem and mainly manifests itself in the form of lower back pain, aching and stiffness. There is therefore no evidence in the form of imaging (eg x-rays) which show this. My GP can therefore only confirm that I have consulted her and described the symptoms. My employer did arrange a consultation with an occupational therapist and I have followed her suggestions but it has not remedied the problem.

My contract of employment is silent as to the class of travel to which I am entitled. The specific journey at issue is the flight to Istanbul, which is of slightly over four hours' duration. I have been making that journey for several years. The company travel policy originally allowed for business-class flights only for journeys over six hours, so i was obliged to travel economy-class. The last occasion on which I travelled economy was several years ago. That resulted in severe discomfort, acheing and stiffness. Shortly after trat journey, the company travel policy was amended to allow business-class travel on flights of more that four hours' duration. This made the journey bearable. The travel policy has now again been amended and business-class travel is permitted only on flights of eleven or more hours' duration.

I have been clear in my argument that my issue is driven by health and safety considerations, and I consider that my employer is in breach of the relevant law, in particular the Health and Safety at Work etc Act, but to no avail.It may be relevant to point out that I am 6'3'' tall. This, together with my lower-back problems, creates a significant degree of discomfort. I also frequently suffer from stiffness in my knees and, occasionally, my right foot and my neck and shoulders.

There was a formal meeting with the HR department to discuss this. It lasted about ten minutes and was plainly a foregone conclusion because the letter which formally refused my request to travel business-class had been prepared in advance. HR did offer to consider allowing me to pay the difference myself but I have a strong principled objection to doing so. The also suggested sitting bu the aisle and getting up and moving about, both of which i have tried, but to no avail.

I did, in fact, obtain my Managing Director's authority to travel business-class provided that the fare were not more than £200 more than economy-class.At the time this was given, this would have been enough to allow me to go business-class but almost immediately after that authority has been given, the fares changed so the difference was greater. I did, however, raise this again before my last trip. The difference between the two fares was less than £200 but I was unable to obtain any confirmation that the authority was still valid. It has not, in fact, been rescinded but I am sure that if I went business-class and claimed for that, the claim would be refused. I have asked my MD about it but he has evaded the issue so it is clear that I would not be in strong position.

I did, in fact, agree to try economy-class again on a trip to Istanbul in October, although I feel that I was pressured into it. I again suffered considerable discomfort and pain, which persisted for 24 - 36 hours after the journey in both directions.

I will be expected to make another visit to Istanbul sometime in the next 2-3 months and I am very reluctant to travel economy-class again because of the certainty that I will suffer further pain. If I refuse to do so, there is the likelihood that I will come under pressure again and there may be a threat of disciplinary action which could potentially lead to dismissal.

In the circumstances, I would like to be clear on the legal position and what my rights are.


This is not so much a health and safety issue as a disability issue. Because of that your employer has to carry out a detailed risk assessment and make such adjustments to your working conditions as are reasonable having regard to the disability.
It has to be a matter of common sense that if you are tall and suffer from pain and injury when you travel long haul on a cramped environment that this is a disability issue. I would see a specialist if you can as your GP has simply parroted what you have said.
This goes beyond the contract of employment and you may have to instigate grievance procedure on the ground of refusal to assess disability and make reasonable adjustments to working conditions.
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