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Booze-in-pocket case U-turn quashes Qantas payout

April 26, 2017 Headline News No Comments Email Email

A to-and-fro legal case centred on a veteran Qantas flight attendant found to be carrying two 50ml bottles of vodka in his trouser pockets has swung again in favour of Qantas, with the full bench of the Fair Work Commission (FWC) overturning a recent controversial decision that Qantas should pay money to the employee it sacked.

Qantas fired the 50-year-old flight attendant after finding the alcohol, the property of Qantas, during a random search of crew following a flight from Perth to Sydney on 14 February 2016.

The attendant was searched at the end of a domestic flight and found to be carrying a can and a bottle of beer in his jacket, a 50ml bottle of gin in his bag, plus the vodka in his pockets.

Qantas said it sacked the attendant for breaching its Standards of Conduct Policy, “that is, removing the alcohol and misleading in the investigation as to how he came to have possession of the alcohol”.

Gin miniature

The attendant argued before the FWC last year that his dismissal was disproportionate to the offence and was, in the circumstances, harsh, unjust or unreasonable.

Last December, the FWC found that the employee’s dismissal was not unreasonable and there was nothing in the process adopted by Qantas which made it unjust, but taking all circumstances into account, the dismissal was harsh and therefore unfair.

FWC Deputy President Jeff Lawrence noted in December that the attendant had mentioned several factors including:

  • His 28 years of unblemished service for Qantas as a long-haul flight attendant.
  • The small value of the items stolen.
  • The Applicant’s age of 50 meant it would be difficult to get another job, certainly as a flight attendant.
  • Although he gave an incorrect explanation, he did correct it.
  • He had a number of medical and family issues prior to the incident.

“I have taken these matters into account and together they lead me to the view that the dismissal was harsh,” Deputy Commissioner Lawrence said at the time.

He ordered Qantas to pay the attendant more than AUD 33,731, a sum equal to 26 weeks of the attendant’s earnings. For a wrap of that case, see: Qantas must pay $33,731 over booze haul sacking

That decision, however, has now been overturned after an appeal by Qantas. The full bench of the FWC has found Qantas had a right to terminate the attendant’s employment. Qantas will not have to pay the AUD 33,731.

The FWC full bench decided that inconsistencies in the attendant’s account of how he came by the alcohol should have been given more weight. The staff member was fully aware, as a long-haul flight attendant for 28 years, that Qantas strictly prohibited theft and that employees were forbidden to provide misleading information that was relevant to their employment.

The staffer had claimed in a letter to Qantas that: “In relation to the miniature bottle of Beefeater Gin; the day prior to the flight we had lunch with friends at the Frisco hotel in Woolloomooloo, where my wife obtained bottles of gin.”

Qantas investigated and found that the Frisco Hotel did not stock miniature bottles of any liquor.

The FWC full bench said it was satisfied the dismissal of the attendant was not harsh, unjust or unreasonable. Accordingly, it found the attendant had not been unfairly dismissed. Thus Qantas will not have to pay him any money.

Written by Peter Needham

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