Our Employment lawyer, Mary Goldsbrough, shares the legal view in the latest update in the Ryanair flight saga.

Last week, Ryanair admitted to 'messing up' pilot holidays - meaning they'd have to rearrange up to 50 flights every day for the next six weeks. Now, they've announced that they plan to make pilots change their holidays instead. 

At the airline’s Annual General Meeting, boss Michael O'Leary said the firm planned to make pilots delay their holiday by a week – and had offered some pilots a 10,000 euro pay rise in exchange for helping out. This follows a previous offer of a one-off cash bonus – of up to £12,000. The offer was met with a frosty reception, as pilots said they wanted new contracts and better working conditions instead.

Legally, the airline doesn’t need the pilots’ agreement to change their holidays. They’re proposing that pilots with a four week block of holiday coming up, take only three weeks – and have the remaining one in January. But, while they don’t need the pilots to agree to this, forcing them into taking a week’s less holiday is unlikely to improve their employee relations. 

If you’re an employer that’s in a situation where there isn’t enough cover because of staff holidays, you can legally withdraw previously granted holiday.

But, you’ll have to give the worker as much notice as their holiday would’ve been (so, two weeks’ notice, if they’d planned a two week holiday). And, if you withdraw holiday without good reason, you’re potentially breaching your duty of trust and confidence. Your worker might resign, and then claim constructive dismissal.

Additionally, if a worker's been showing signs that they're stressed or exhausted, withdrawing holiday permission (especially at short notice) could be a breach of your duty to protect health and safety. In these circumstances, you should consider agreeing to a worker taking at least part of the holiday previously requested and agreed.

On the other hand, if you’re an employee who’s been asked – or told – to change your holiday, you’re entitled to ask your employer to reimburse you for any money that you’ve lost by cancelling it. You'll also be entitled to take this holiday later on in the holiday year.