Australian labor law is insane. The government has ordered Virgin Australia to reinstate a flight attendant who was fired for napping on the job; watching a movie inflight; showing up late to work and violating uniform standards; and taking food meant for passengers. According to the government the decision to fire her was “harsh, unjust and unreasonable.”
On one flight where she was training and being paid to observe service flow and duties of other crew she sat in the last row of the aircraft and watched a movie, “fell asleep and refused to return to a crew seat before the aircraft landed.” In her defense she claimed she didn’t need the training despite having been off from work for months due to the pandemic. She denied the allegation of her colleagues that she took food meant for passengers with her off the aircraft – she claimed that everything she took she ate on board.
The Australian Workforce Commission faulted her for refusing to participate in re-training – but still ruled the airline had to take her back starting next month.
She wasn’t awarded back wages, which is surprising since six years ago a Qantas flight attendant was awarded about AU$33,000 because the government ruled it was unfair for him to be dismissed after stealing alcohol and lying about it. The man was a veritable Hunter S. Thompson, found with “a can and a bottle of beer in his jacket, two 50ml bottles of vodka in his trousers and a 50ml bottle of gin in his bag.” He claimed not to know how the beer in his jacket and vodka in his pants got there.
So what does it actually take to get fired from an airline in Australia?
- In 2019 a 41 year veteran of Qantas lost his engineering job after two women complained about him watching porn on his company-issued iPad. His excuse? He must have momentarily dozed off and the porn just came on without his realizing it.
In other words, the man’s defense – that he brought to the country’s Fair Work Commission to dispute his firing – was that he was sleeping on the job. After 3 hearings over 9 months, the government upheld the dismissal.
- That same year the Australian Workforce Commission upheld the dismissal of a flight attendant who showed up drunk to work after 14 cocktails, but claimed he shouldn’t be held responsible because he was tempted by a bar’s drink specials and because he followed the airline’s instructions to fly home rather than working his assigned flight after being hospitalized.
- And in 2018 Qantas successfully fired a flight attendant who stole alcohol from the flight, got drunk while on the job, and lied about it. Though the government suggested merely drinking on the job wouldn’t have been enough. The crewmember claimed she bought the alcohol herself at duty free, that she continued working drunk ‘to avoid letting down her colleagues,’ and that firing was disproportionate to the offense.
One of the last things I’ve ever wanted in professional life is to be a California employer. I’ve had to fill out insurance applications at work that ask as a standalone question, “do you have any employees based in California?”
I lived in California as a teenager and my family was in the car business there. A mechanic in their repair shop once cheated on his wife. She confronted him when she learned he’d gotten an STD. So he went full on Shaggy Defense claiming to have gotten it at work – from a spider bite while fixing a car.
It did not matter that’s not how STDs work (they’re called sexually transmitted for a reason). Since he was fully committed to the workplace injury story with his wife, he had to go through with applying for workers comp. Since it was California.. he got it.
It turns out my working model for what never to do in life was too provincial. I don’t ever want to be an Australian employer either.