All it took was two peach martinis and three gin and tonics to turn a night out in New York into a disaster for a Qantas flight attendant that resulted in a $20,000 hospital bill and his dismissal from the company.
Luke Urso claimed that he had been unfairly dismissed after the incident and wanted his job back, but the Fair Work Commission didn’t agree.
Despite arguing that his drinks had been spiked, deputy president Lyndall Dean found the airline had a valid reason to sack Urso because he had consumed the drinks voluntarily.
During an overnight stay in Manhattan in July last year, Urso went to the 230 Fifth Rooftop Bar where he says that he and a fellow crew member ordered the same five drinks – two peach martinis and three gin and tonics – but they had a very different effect on him.
Urso ended up in the toilets being violently ill, before collapsing.
He was found unconscious and rushed to hospital where he registered a blood alcohol reading of 0.205 per cent – three hours after his last drink.
Experts said the reading suggested he had consumed around 18 standard drinks over three hours.
Early the next morning he was discharged, but still feeling unwell, decided to call in sick saying he wouldn’t be able to work on the flight to Los Angeles departing later in the day.
Worker suspended during investigation
After the incident, Qantas suspended Urso and commenced an investigation, during which Urso maintained that he had only consumed five drinks.
In a letter to his employer he wrote:
“The fact that I became very ill as a result of these drinks does not mean that the quantity was excessive. I have never experienced such a negative reaction to the standard amount of alcohol that I consume. For this reason, I believe that my drink may have been spiked.”
The trip was the first Mr Urso had done since returning to work after heart surgery.
Even so, Qantas decided to terminate his employment for breaching a number of company policies relating to conduct and health and safety.
His termination letter stated that Qantas had “formed the view that you have not been honest throughout this investigation in maintaining that your drink was spiked and you had not consumed more than five drinks.”
“Significant consideration has also been given to the medical information in the Greenwich Hospital report which suggests that your drinks were not spiked, as well as … a comment made by the Doctor at Greenwich Hospital that ‘There was no evidence of drink spiking’.”
Qantas also noted the huge hospital bill of $20,000 “as a result of your substantiated misconduct.”
Commission critical of flight attendant’s conduct
Urso lodged an unfair dismissal claim in the Fair Work Commission where deputy president Lyndall Dean was critical of his behaviour.
“Mr Urso conducted himself in a manner which placed himself in a heavily intoxicated state,” deputy president Dean said.
“He consumed the alcohol voluntarily. In that context, the failure of Mr Urso to report to work because of his voluntary consumption of alcohol constitutes a valid reason for his dismissal.”
Deputy president Dean took into consideration Urso’s unblemished record, along with his offer to reimburse Qantas for the hospital fees, and the fact that flying was his dream job, but still found in favour of the airline, stating that she was “unable to conclude that his dismissal was unfair”.
After-work conduct can cost workers their job
Industrial advocate Miles Heffernan from Industrial Relations Claims said the case is a lesson for all workers that their conduct outside of the work hours can cost them their job.
“Who would have thought a couple of peach martinis and few gin and tonics could be so lethal, but it just goes to show that if your job requires you to be ‘ready willing and able’ to perform the following day, then it’s probably a good idea to not go out on the town and drink,” he said.
“This is a very unfortunate case because one simple error of judgement has cost this flight attendant his dream job.”
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