Qantas has won an appeal after losing an unfair dismissal case for sacking a flight attendant who stole alcohol.
The decision by the Full Bench of the Fair Work Commission overturned an initial ruling.
That first ruling found the employee’s dismissal had been harsh and therefore unfair, and subsequently ordered the airline to pay him $33,000 compensation.
Qantas wins appeal after sacking flight attendant
David Dawson worked as a flight attendant for Qantas for 28 years.
However, during a random search of crew following a flight from Perth to Sydney, staff found Dawson had a can of beer, a small bottle of gin and small bottle of vodka.
Qantas said it conducted an investigation, and allowed Dawson ample time to respond.
It subsequently found he he had not been truthful about where the alcohol had come from.
Despite his age of 50, and his years of service, the airline terminated Dawson’s employment for breaching the company’s Standards of Conduct policy.
He received five weeks pay.
The unfair dismissal claim
Dawson filed an unfair dismissal claim, arguing that his sacking had been harsh, because:
- The process of the crew search 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, however, claimed his wife put the bottles of gin and vodka in his pocket during a lunch date the day before.
- The airline treated him differently to other flight attendants who had also stolen property but had not been sacked.
The original decision
Deputy President Jeff Lawrence said it is “entirely understandable” that Qantas sacked Dawson, because he had stolen property.
He noted the theft involved only a small amount of alcohol, however, he said it was still a clear breach of strict policies that Qantas had in place.
Mr Lawrence also accepted that Qantas told Dawson the reason for the dismissal, and that it gave him plenty of time to respond.
However, Mr Lawrence added that despite the airline having a valid reason for dismissal, he could also conclude that it had been harsh, unjust or unreasonable.
And that’s exactly what he did.
Taking into account:
- 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;
Mr Lawrence ruled the dismissal harsh.
He found Qantas could have imposed a less severe penalty than dismissal.
Mr Lawrence accepted the airline’s argument that the employment relationship had broken down.
He therefore ordered Qantas to pay Dawson $33,731, the equivalent of 26-weeks pay.
Qantas wins appeal
Qantas appealed the decision, with the Full Bench of the Fair Work Commission siding with the airline.
It found Qantas had the right to terminate Dawson’s employment, because he knew his actions breached company policies.
The Full Bench also found that Mr Lawrence did not give enough weight to the fact that Dawson had been untruthful about where the alcohol came from.
He claimed his wife put the miniature bottle of gin in his pocket during lunch the previous day.
However, Qantas found the hotel where he had lunch did not stock miniature bottles of spirits.
As a result, the Full Bench quashed the original decision.
Workplace theft a serious matter
Miles Heffernan, Director of Litigation at IR Claims, says the Fair Work Commission considers workplace theft an extremely serious matter, despite the monetary amount involved.
“One can of beer and a couple of miniature bottles of spirits – less than 20 bucks worth of alcohol – cost this bloke his job and his career,” he said.
“It sounds harsh, however, stealing from your employer is considered serious misconduct, and if you then subsequently lie about it, you can expect to lose your job.”
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