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Long-haired male attendant in wig trumps Virgin Australia

July 27, 2013 Aviation, Headline News 2 Comments Email Email

A male Virgin Australia flight attendant has won his job back after a protracted battle concerning long hair and wigs that saw him fired for not conforming with the carrier’s hairstyle regulations.

Virgin sacked the worker, David Taleski, in October 2011 after trying unsuccessfully for 15 months to make him comply with its grooming and style manual.

Early this year, Taleski won an unfair dismissal battle against Virgin – but the airline lodged an appeal. The Fair Work Commission has now dismissed Virgin’s appeal. As a result, Taleski hopes to be back in the air with Virgin Australia from next week, his lawyer told Melbourne’s Age newspaper.

The story begins in 2008, when Virgin employed Taleski as a flight attendant.

According to Fair Work Commission documents, Taleski started to grow his hair in mid 2010 “for what he maintained were religious reasons associated with the tenth anniversary of his mother’s death.

“Virgin allowed him to wear his hair in a neat bun temporarily, notwithstanding Virgin’s then grooming standards. In December 2010 Mr Taleski was told by Virgin that he was required to comply with its grooming standards. This necessitated Mr Taleski having his hair cut short into a men’s business style haircut.

“In January 2011 Mr Taleski raised medical reasons for keeping his hair longer, producing a medical certificate from a Dr David Spencer dated 18 January 2011 which stated:

 This is to certify that Mr David Taleski… attended this clinic for an appointment. As part of his treatment I have suggested he try to keep his hair longer. [Signed] Dr. David Spencer.

In February 2011, Virgin introduced the “Look Book”, its guide to uniform and personal styling.

The male guidelines in the ‘Look Book’ require that male hair should be a business-appropriate style haircut only, no longer than collar length and, when styled, not above four centimetres in height.

The ‘Look Book’ and Taleski’s struggle to wear his hair longer while keeping his job entailed many meetings with Virgin Australia senior management – with Taleski even asking Virgin chief executive John Borghetti to intervene.

Taleski produced medical evidence that he felt compelled to wear his hair long because he was suffering from a body-image disorder. He wore a wig at one point. Having initially cited religious reasons for his decision to grow his hair longer, he then said it was due to a medical condition, which he was uncomfortable discussing. He suggested a ponytail and a hairpiece as a compromise.

Virgin sacked Taleski in October 2011, saying he had failed to provide medical evidence when requested, had persistently refused to conform to the ‘Look Book’, and had behaved improperly by trying to involve Borghetti.

Shortly afterwards, in an attempt to show why Virgin should not terminate his employment, Taleski wrote to the airline saying he was “passionate” about working for Virgin Australia.

“I want nothing more than to continue flying with the business. To this extent, I am eager to find a solution to the problems that I have disclosed to the business in relation to my body dismorphia disorder.”

If reinstated, Taleski said he would:

  • Agree to continue wearing a wig which complies with the grooming standards.
  • Provide the company with a clinical assessment and diagnosis.
  • Continue to undergo treatment for my mental health issues.
  • Withdraw my statements in relation to wearing the wig impacting on my mental health.
  • Comply with the company’s direction in relation to escalating grievances and other matters in the future through the appropriate and correct channels.

Virgin then dismissed Taleski, who appealed for unfair dismissal before the Fair Work Commission.

After months of careful deliberating, Fair Work found Taleski’s hairpiece would not necessarily breach the airline’s style manual because the manual did not deal with wigs. It found Taleski’s attempt to get Borghetti to intervene had been unwarranted – but it  did not deserve dismissal.

It ordered Virgin to resinstate Taleski but the airline said it would appeal the decision.

The airline’s attempt has now failed. Yesterday, the commission’s senior deputy president, Jennifer Acton, ruled against the airline, writing in her judgment that she was not convinced there were any errors in January’s decision to reinstate Taleski.

“No significant errors of fact have been established and we do not consider it is in the public interest or otherwise to grant permission to appeal. We decline to grant Virgin permission to appeal in this matter and, to the extent necessary, dismiss the appeal,” she wrote.

The Fair Work Commission, formerly known as Fair Work Australia, is the industrial relations tribunal created by the Fair Work Act 2009 as part of the Rudd Government’s industrial relations reforms.

Written by : Peter Needham

Currently there are "2 comments" on this Article:

  1. AgentGerko says:

    Terrific. As a result we now have a guy looking after us in the air who is either potentially mentally unstable, a religious radical or just a clown who thinks he’s entitled to do as he pleases and stuff the boss who is paying his wage. Well done, Fair Work Commission.

  2. None of your business says:

    good on fair work Australia! It’s all in the title! “FAIR WORK!” Clown or not
    I’m sure he’s still capable of getting your ass off an aircraft in under 90secs in
    An emergency!
    We don’t judge passengers on what they look like when they step on board our aircrafts
    And I assume they do the same at Virgin! You have no right to comment unless it’s YOUR
    Company that pays his wages!

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