The Fair Work Commission has ruled in Qantas’s favour after the airline sacked an employee for giving discounted international airfares to numerous friends.
Maria Panera commenced working with Qantas in 1986 but was dismissed in June last year after she booked cheap flights to New York, Venice and Athens for family friends and associates, which Qantas argued breached company policy.
In several instances, Panera, whose normal duties involved day travel changes, was found to have given her acquaintances the cheapest possible tickets for future bookings.
In one incident, Qantas told the commission Panera had overruled the computer system in order to access a cheaper fare for a friend.
Panera lodged an unfair dismissal application with the commission and argued she was not aware that her actions breached company policies.
In assessing her claim, the Fair Work Commission heard Panera has been made aware of the relevant company policies and was provided with a letter outlining the allegations against her.
The commission also found Panera was given a reasonable opportunity to respond to the allegations the month before her dismissal.
As a result, senior deputy president Lea Drake ruled the dismissal was not harsh and dismissed Panera’s application.
“Ms Panera had an otherwise good employment record and the outcome of termination of employment was, both socially and financially, devastating,” Drake said.
“Termination of employment might not necessarily be the fair outcome in such circumstances. However, I consider that Qantas was entitled to expect a senior employee in Ms Panera’s role to both understand and apply its policies and to act honestly, and I am satisfied that in neither circumstance was termination of employment with notice an outcome that was harsh, unjust or unreasonable.”
Swaab Attorneys partner and workplace relations expert Warwick Ryan told SmartCompany Qantas is known for following established procedures very well and it is unsurprising the company was successful in this case.
“If there is serious misconduct then there are grounds to terminate forthwith,” Ryan says.
“But it doesn’t mean that you are relieved of the obligation to investigate the incident, which includes giving the alleged perpetrator or wrongdoer the opportunity to put forth his or her side of the story.”
Ryan says in these sorts of cases, the commission’s decision will generally hinge on whether it can be proved that the employee accused of wrongdoing was the person behind the till or computer terminal.
“That is why in hotels they’ve gone to great lengths to give people identifiers, so if they look up a till they can identify the individual behind it,” he says.
Ryan says another lesson to be learnt from this case is employees should be instructed about company policies not just at the beginning of their employment, but periodically.
“That way an employee can’t say, oh, I had no idea,” he says.
“This happens all the time – whether it’s drugs and alcohol, accessing porn or even granting cheap flights to relatives.”
SmartCompany contacted Qantas but did not receive a response prior to publication.
Panera is appealing the decision.*
*This article was updated on September 22, 2015 to include details of Panera’s appeal.
This article was updated again on January 25, 2016, to clarify the allegation made by Qantas before the commission.