The Full Bench of the Fair Work Commission (FWC) offered no leniency to a Qantas flight attendant (defendant) who, during layover in New York City, was hospitalised with a blood-alcohol content of 0.205. When the defendant called in to work sick following his hospital stay, Qantas, instead of sending flowers and cards, dismissed the defendant.
Protesting on appeal that he was, in fact, unfairly dismissed, the defendant claimed that his consumption of an approximated 14 standard drinks was all but an accident. Purportedly, the defendant had intended to consume only five standard drinks – a ‘not unreasonable’ quantity per se. The defendant accordingly contended that the bar practiced “free pouring”, rendering the drinks stronger than usual. Offering up an alternate target of blame, the defendant further suggested that drink spiking was a plausible explanation for his high and unintended blood-alcohol content.
In the absence of any substantiating evidence, the FWC denied the defendant’s appeal – he was not unfairly dismissed. Though unlikely, even if “free pouring” had occurred, the FWC conceded that this would do little to alter the outcome of the case. The FWC emphasised that, given the defendant’s ‘safety critical’ role as a flight attendant, he should have done more to enquire as to the nature of the drinks. Intent, as the FWC further provided, was therefore irrelevant. The flight attendant knew that he had work the next day and therefore, the transparent claims of “free pouring” were insufficient in persuading the FWC that the dismissal was unfair.
What does this mean?
As an employee, your out of hours conduct may have harmful implications for your employment. Though not limited to these circumstances, where your conduct impinges on the core functions of your role, affects your capacity as an employee or breaches key obligations of your employment contract, then you may be validly dismissed for actions taken in your private time.
Transcript of hearing, Urso v QF Cabin Crew Australia Pty Limited, Sydney, September 24, 2018