A Qantas flight attendant who was sacked after she drank a quarter of a litre of vodka during a flight from Sydney to Johannesburg has lost her unfair dismissal claim.
The Fair Work Commission found that despite her 31 years of service with the airline, the flight attendant was employed in a safety critical role and “for good reason was prohibited from consuming alcohol during a flight”.
Alison Warr had worked for Qantas since 1987.
During the last hour of a flight from Sydney to Johannesburg in July last year, Ms Warr admitted to quickly drinking a quarter of litre of vodka mixed with soda water when she was alone in the front galley.
Her suspicious Cabin Manager removed her from her safety duties before the plane landed.
She returned a positive reading when she was later breath tested at her hotel.
Ms Warr admitted to misleading the subsequent investigation by denying that she had stolen company property, insisting that she had bought the alcohol at a duty-free store in Sydney before boarding the flight.
She feared that if she was honest about drinking the employer’s alcohol on board, she would lose her job.
What the Commission said
Deputy president Geoffrey Bull did not accept Ms Warr’s argument that her conduct was not a valid reason for dismissal.
The flight attendant had argued her sacking was disproportionate to her misconduct and that it had failed to take adequate consideration of her 31 years of good service.
Of all the matters put forward on her behalf alleging unfairness, Mr Bull said he considered the length of her good service “as the most compelling”.
However, Ms Warr had occupied “a safety sensitive position and for good reason was prohibited from consuming alcohol during a flight”.
He said there was nothing to suggest the dismissal was unfair and that her dishonesty about the source of the vodka was another valid reason for the sacking.
Qantas policies consider the unauthorised removal of property as serious misconduct, and prohibit the consumption of alcohol while on duty.
Mr Bull said there was no doubt the Qantas policies provided its passengers “a degree of comfort that should an emergency arise the aircraft crew will not be under the influence of alcohol in responding to an emergency”.
‘No leg to stand on’
Leading industrial advocate Miles Heffernan from Industrial Relations Claims said he wasn’t surprised with the Commission’s decision.
“Here we have an employee working in a critical safety role, under the influence of vodka that she had taken from her employer, who then went on to lie about where she got the alcohol from,” he said.
“She had clearly breached a number of the airline’s policies, including stealing from her employer and risking the safety of those on board in the event of an emergency, so from a legal point of view, she didn’t really have a leg to stand on.
“Her union representative tried to argue that other staff had not been sacked for similar misconduct, but Mr Bull pointed out that this was not true, referring to the case of a senior flight attendant who had worked for Qantas for 28 years who was sacked for stealing miniature bottles of alcohol after a flight.”
Never drink before or during work
Mr Heffernan said common sense should dictate that an employee should never drink before or during work, and should never take property owned by their employer.
“It’s always going to be a temptation for flight crew who have easy access to alcohol, but just like every other job, if you are going to start stealing company property, or if you are going to be drunk while on duty, you can reasonably expect to lose your job,” he said.
If you have been unfairly dismissed from employment, you may be eligible for compensation or reinstatement.
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