Qantas has won an appeal after it lost an unfair dismissal case for sacking a flight attendant who was caught stealing alcohol from a flight.
The decision by the Full Bench of the Fair Work Commission overturned an original ruling which found the former employee’s dismissal had been harsh, and had ordered the airline to pay him $33,000 in compensation.
The reason for dismissal
David Dawson had worked as a flight attendant for Qantas for 28 years, but during a random search of the crew following a flight from Perth to Sydney, he was found to have a can of beer and a small bottle of gin and small bottle vodka.
Qantas said it conducted an extensive investigation, and allowed Mr Dawson ample time to respond, and found that he was not being truthful about where some of the alcohol had come from.
Despite his age of 50, and his years of service, the airline decided to terminate Mr Dawson’s employment for breaching the company’s strict Standards of Conduct policy.
He received five weeks pay.
The unfair dismissal claim
Mr Dawson lodged an unfair dismissal claim, arguing that his sacking was harsh, because:
- The process of the crew search was unfair to him because it allowed other crew members time to dispose of any property they might have stolen
- He responded in good faith through the investigation, even though the company accused him of changing his story about how some of the alcohol came into his possession
- He admitted to taking the can of beer, but said the bottles of gin and vodka had been put in his pocket by his wife during a lunch date the day before
- He was being treated differently to other flight attendants who were also found to have stolen property but had not been sacked
The original Fair Work Commission decision
Deputy President Jeff Lawrence said that it was “entirely understandable” that Mr Dawson had been sacked, because he had stolen property – and even though it was only a small amount of alcohol, it was a clear breach of the strict policies that Qantas had in place.
He also accepted that Mr Dawson was told the reason for the dismissal, and that he was given plenty of time to respond.
But Deputy President Lawrence also said that even if there was a valid reason for dismissal, he could also conclude that it was harsh, unjust or unreasonable.
And that’s what he did.
Taking into account Mr Dawson’s age, his length of service with an unblemished record, a recent car crash involving him and his daughter, and recent surgery that required four months off work, deputy president Lawrence ruled that the dismissal was harsh.
He said Qantas could have imposed a less severe penalty than dismissal.
Deputy President Lawrence accepted the airline’s argument that the employment relationship had broken down, so instead of reinstatement, he ordered Qantas to pay Mr Dawson $33,731, the equivalent of 26 weeks pay.
Qantas appealed the decision, with the Full Bench of the Fair Work Commission siding with the airline.
It said Qantas did have the right to terminate Mr Dawson’s employment, because he was aware that his actions were in breach of company policy.
The Full Bench also found that not enough weight was given to the fact that Mr Dawson had been untruthful about where the alcohol came from.
He claimed that the miniature bottle of Beefeater gin was put in his pocket by his wife during lunch the previous day, but it was later found that the hotel where he had lunch did not stock miniature bottles of spirits.
The original decision was quashed.
The Commission considers workplace theft a serious matter
Miles Heffernan, Director of Litigation at Industrial Relations Claims, said the case shows the Fair Work Commission takes cases of workplace theft extremely seriously, no matter the monetary amount involved.
“We are talking here about one can of beer and a couple of miniature bottles of spirits – less than 20 bucks worth of alcohol – but it has cost this bloke his job and his career,” he said.
“I think many people were surprised with the Commission’s original decision, considering Qantas had done everything right, as far as following proper processes and procedures.
“It might sound harsh, but if you steal from your employer, and then get caught lying about it, you don’t have a leg to stand on.”
To read the Full Bench decision, click here.
If you have been unfairly dismissed from employment, you may be eligible for compensation or reinstatement.
But you only have 21 days to file a claim, so don’t delay!
Call our team at Industrial Relations Claims today on
1300 045 466