27th March 2024

Crew Working Whilst Sick

Initial Report

I recently flew with one cabin crew who spent the entire day coughing and was clearly sick. I commented at the end of the day to her that she did not sound well, which she acknowledged and agreed she was sick with a blocked nose and ears. I told her she should call sick and that she might pass her sickness on to other crew members and passengers, to which she responded that calling in sick would cause her problems with the company and that it is better to work sick. I have experienced this many times with flight crew, but especially cabin crew. The sick crew member is aware that they are sick, but is afraid of the repercussions of calling in sick from the company. There seems to be a culture of fear about going sick which is dangerous for the crew member who is sick, as well as crew and passengers they are responsible for.

Company Comment

It is each crew members responsibility to ensure they are fit to operate a duty. There is an established sickness process in place that crew are required to follow if they are sick. As with all companies, there is an internal process for following up with crew who call sick including checking their welfare. We have a number of crew who follow this procedure successfully. There are no repercussions should crew follow the correct process. We have a robust reporting culture that allows crew to report not only occurrences but safety hazards they see on the line. Crew can report internally using the safety reporting system or through the confidential reporting system.

CAA Comment

It is a requirement that a crew member does not report for duty when unfit to do so. It is recognised that companies may have sickness management policies intended to identify recurring sickness for welfare purposes, however, such policies should not encourage cabin crew to operate when unfit.

CHIRP Comment

Other than causing further illness and possibly injury, safety may be being compromised by crews feeling pressured to operate when they are unfit to do so, whether perceived pressure from your operator or personal pressures. We understand that pressures are not just financial but may be related to sickness polices, temporary contracts etc, but the safety implications of operating as crew when unfit to do so are clear. As a crew member you must ensure that you only report for duty when fit to do so.

MED.A.020 Decrease in medical fitness

  1. Cabin crew members shall not perform duties on an aircraft and, where applicable, shall not exercise the privileges of their cabin crew attestation when they are aware of any decrease in their medical fitness, to the extent that this condition might render them unable to discharge their safety duties and responsibilities.

UK operators like most companies are required to have processes in place to support employees whilst they are unwell. The CAA Flight Operations Group are doing some wider work with the industry on absence management which we will hopefully be able to update on later in the year.

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