Employment and Migration Blog

Qantas’ Decision to terminate an employee despite 31 years of service deemed reasonable

Posted by Anna Ford on 23 May 2019

Assisted by Maja Podinic

The recent case of Warr v Qantas Airways Limited T/A QANTAS [2019] FWC 2182 saw Australian airline Qantas terminate the employment of Mrs Alison Warr, a seasoned flight attendant, despite her having boasted a career spanning an impressive 31 years of good service filled with multiple complimentary letters from passengers, and the receipt of performance-related awards.

Despite the employee's professional accolades, the airline's decision to terminate her employment was supported by the Fair Work Commission (FWC).  This blog aims to provide some clarity with regard to Qantas' initial decision to terminate the employee, and the FWC's subsequent decision to uphold the airline's choice to terminate.

The applicant in this matter, Mrs Warr, admitted to drinking vodka whilst on duty on a flight from Sydney, Australia to Johannesburg in South Africa.  Despite efforts made to consume the alcohol in secret, Mrs Warr became noticeably intoxicated, with one of her colleagues raising concerns about her physical state.

Following the incident, on the flight's arrival to Johannesburg, Mrs Warr was subjected to a breath test which in turn showed a positive reading for alcohol.  Based on this positive reading, Mrs Warr was asked not to attend work pending further notice from Qantas - and was also informed that her actions would be subject to an internal investigation.

Of note in this matter was the fact that, throughout the investigation, Mrs Warr had maintained the claim that she had personally purchased the vodka in question from a duty-free store, with her own money, prior to the flight - even going as far as to say that she would provide a sworn statement supporting the claim.

Following subsequent enquiries made by Qantas relating to where the employee had sourced the vodka, Mrs Warr was ultimately forced to admit that she had lied, and that she had in fact sourced the vodka from the on-board supply designated for the flight on which she was working.

In support of its decision, the airline noted that all flight attendants are inherently aware that they hold critical positions within the context of safety, that Qantas upholds a zero-tolerance policy for all employees undertaking safety-sensitive aviation activities, and that the company's expectations surrounding the consumption of alcohol whilst on duty are clearly set out within the Qantas Safety and Health Policy, as well as the Civil Aviation Regulations.

Following Qantas' termination of the flight attendants' employment, Mrs Warr alleged that the decision was unfair given her length of service, her positive work history (prior to this particular incident), her personal circumstances leading up to the incident in question, and her personal financial situation.

Given the seriousness of the misconduct, and despite the points made by Mrs Warr, the FWC supported Qantas' decision to terminate her employment, noting that:

  • "Being prepared to sign a sworn statement known to be false is not a trifling matter.  While this did not occur on the sensible advice of Mr Reed, the preparedness to do so reflected in Mrs Warr's correspondence of 31 August 2018, and the ongoing dishonesty during the investigation, is an overwhelming factor contributing to the loss of trust and confidence between the applicant and her employer that her length of service cannot restore"; and that
     
  • "Mrs Warr occupied a safety sensitive position and for good reason was prohibited from consuming alcohol during a flight.  No doubt such policies provide the respondent's aircraft passengers a degree of comfort that should an emergency arise the aircraft crew will not be under the influence of alcohol in responding to an emergency."

The case of Warr v Qantas Airways Limited T/A QANTAS [2019] FWC 2182 demonstrates the fact that regardless of an employee having a strong track-record and significant tenure within a company, serious misconduct can easily result in the termination of employment.

If you have a query relating to any of the information in this article, or you would like to speak with an experienced lawyer in Coleman Greig's Employment Law team with regard to your own matter, please don't hesitate to get in touch today:

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