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FormerLegalSecy

Can My Employer Force me to Travel by Air?

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I hope this is an easy question.

 

Can my employer, which is a state agency (so I'm not going to name the State), force me to fly for work?

 

I wasn't always afraid of flying but somehow I seem to have developed a fear of it.  The last time I had to fly for work was about 5 years ago and it was horrible.  I had a panic attack that lasted the entire 4-hour flight each way, and since then I have not gone anywhere near an airport.

 

The few times I've had to travel out of state for work since then I've always managed to come up with some excuse for either driving or taking the train.  I know it is not rational to be afraid of flying, and it is actually pretty embarrassing.  But I can't help it.

 

I have an upcoming trip and our travel auditor said "no" to the train & to driving ("does not conform to policy").  I offered to take vacation days for the travel time via train but did ask them to pay for the ticket.  They said No and told me to get a plane ticket.  My boss is okay with me traveling via train but the travel auditor isn't.

 

Can they really tell me I have to fly? 

 

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You would know better what the consequences of not complying with policy is.

 

If your boss says OK he should be the one going to bat for you.

 

If he doesn't want to buck policy, your choices seem to be as follows:

 

Push back and say no to plane travel. Period.

 

Or

 

If you have time on both sides of the trip, drive or take the train at your own expense and seek forgiveness after you get back.

 

Or

 

Get yourself to a doctor who can write you up as unfit to travel by plane due to panic attacks (it's a real condition) and invoke ADA.

 

Or

 

Get a prescription to valium or something that will make the flight a non-event.

 

 

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4 hours ago, FormerLegalSecy said:

Can they really tell me I have to fly?

 

Yes, the agency can tell you that. And under federal and state law really the only defense you have is to establish that your fear of flying is a disability and ask for a reasonable accommodation for it. I recall your state (but I won't mention it here) and every state agency has (or at least should have) a written policy on reasonable accommodation for disability. You'd need to read that policy and follow the required steps if you want to go down that road. But even if you invoke your right to reasonable accommodation under the ADA and your state's version of it there is no guarantee you will get it. The state agency may say that the accommodation imposes an undue hardship, perhaps because your train ticket or whatever will cost more or because your extra days off work would be a problem. If they do that then you may have to fight it out whether it really is an undue hardship for the state.

 

Other than that, if you refuse to go by plane the agency may take whatever action against you that your civil service rules  and union contract (if your union still has one) would allow, including perhaps termination, for the refusal.

 

If you are going to have to travel distances where air travel comes into play for your job you might want to look into treatment for the fear. It is possible to overcome it for a lot of people. Obviously that doesn't help you with this immediate trip, but it may help you avoid continuing conflicts at work over it. Or perhaps you can find some other way to make air travel bearable.

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Thank you both.  This is helpful.

 

Long term plan:  I think I will look for treatment for fear of flying.  I'd really rather get over it. (Will have to check if our health insurance covers that kind of treatment...)

 

Short term:  I'll talk to my boss, tell him I'm getting a train ticket, & sign up for Vacation time for the time I will be on the Train. I will pay the $12 more that the train ticket costs than a plane ticket would. I know he doesn't want to get in an argument with the Audit folks, but I'm pretty sure he wouldn't formally discipline me for doing that (I will ask him to make sure). I don't want to put him in a difficult position. But he also knows that even with some health issues I've had in the past year - including 6 weeks of FMLA - I'm still the top performer in the department ... by a lot.   I'm pretty sure he wouldn't want to fire me or hurt my career over a Train ticket.

 

The thing that's kind of ironic is that I've had several consulting firms that have tried to pirate me away from my current job recently. Let's just say that they offered pretty nice compensation packages compared to my paltry civil service salary.  I didn't even consider them because I would have had to fly … but if I really can overcome my fear of flying, who knows....

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29 minutes ago, A.Mohammad Sheriff said:

Yes probably based on the following:

1. Company Policy

2. If that's the only safe means of travel

3. Time constraints based on distance

4. or Labor requirements

5. etc

 

No, an employer can in no situation force an employee to fly or do pretty much anything else. The EE always quit.

 

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20 hours ago, PayrollHRGuy said:

Many airlines do free fear of flying classes.

 

https://www.google.com/search?q=fear+of+flying+classes&oq=Fear+of+flying

 

Okay, well, it might not be quite that easy.  I actually did try taking a fear of flying class at our local airport a couple of years ago.  I parked the car at the airport and as I was walking up the sidewalk of the main entrance to go to the class I threw up, barely made it to a trash can to avoid puking all over the sidewalk.  I wasn't sick before that, or after that, but I did turn around & go home instead of going to the class.

 

The thing is, I do pick up my husband at the airport all the time (he flies pretty often for his job) and that doesn't seem to bother me.   The other thing is, I used to be able to fly and it didn't used to bother me either.  I don't even have any idea when I got this way or why - nothing bad happened to me on an airplane, that I remember anyway.   Its embarrassing.

 

Ugh.

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If your job and future, you have two real options. Keep trying until you make it in.  You might also talk to your doctor about a prescription for some Xanax type drug just to make it to the class.

 

The other option is to find a job that doesn't require air travel. 

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8 hours ago, FormerLegalSecy said:

The thing is, I do pick up my husband at the airport all the time (he flies pretty often for his job) and that doesn't seem to bother me.   The other thing is, I used to be able to fly and it didn't used to bother me either.  I don't even have any idea when I got this way or why - nothing bad happened to me on an airplane, that I remember anyway.   Its embarrassing.

 

Ugh.

 

Is it really the flying that is the root of the problem or being in the enclosed space? How you tackle trying to get over it will depend at what is the real root of the fear.

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Tax raises a good point. I am not exactly afraid of flying  but I don't like it, either, and try to avoid it when possible. What I am actually phobic about is having empty space below me and having to SEE that empty space, so I don't do well with bridges, open staircases, or glass elevators either. What allows me to fly is to always get an aisle seat (easy enough since both my husband and my best friend, whom I sometimes travel with, prefer window seats) and keep my focus completely inside the plane. DON'T look out. Bring reading material, knitting, games on a tablet, a sleep mask, whatever will keep your focus limited to a small area inside the plane.

 

On the other hand, if it's the enclosed space that's the problem, the above would be the worst thing you could do and you'd want a window seat where you could look out.

 

Something to think about.

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Good news!  Apparently my boss went to bat for me and on Friday they approved the Train travel.

 

In return, I promised to work on overcoming my fear of flying so this will not continue to be a problem every time it comes up.

 

Thanks to everybody for all the good feedback & suggestions & encouragement to keep trying to find a way to overcome it.

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4 hours ago, FormerLegalSecy said:

Good news!  Apparently my boss went to bat for me and on Friday they approved the Train travel.

 

In return, I promised to work on overcoming my fear of flying so this will not continue to be a problem every time it comes up.

 

Thanks to everybody for all the good feedback & suggestions & encouragement to keep trying to find a way to overcome it.

 

I'm glad you got a good outcome this time around. Hopefully you'll find conquering the problem to not be too bad. 😀

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