The Fair Work Commission has ordered Qantas to immediately reinstate two flight attendants sacked for alleged inappropriate use of company-issued Cabcharge cards.
The case sees Qantas join a list of major companies, including logistics giant Linfox, which have lost unfair dismissal cases due, in part, to unclear workplace policies.
Two Qantas international flight attendants, Albert Chew and Margaret Leong, were sacked by the airline after using two company-issued Cabcharge cards to pay for at least 11 shared taxi rides from their homes to Sydney’s Mascot Airport.
What will the election mean to you?
Sign up to our free newsletter, including this weekend’s coverage of the election.
The pair lived close to each other and were regularly scheduled to work on the same flights through Qantas’ “buddy system” program.
For each of the trips, the pair claim they paid with two company-issued Cabcharge cards rather than one, in contravention of company policy.
The pair also opted to use an upmarket hire car service rather than an ordinary metered taxi service for the trips. However, Leong claimed it was standard practice for flight attendants to use hire car or limousine services, and Qantas did not challenge the point.
In addition, the flight attendants also used a further four Cabcharge cards for a trips between the airport and the city, trips they concede were not authorised under company policy.
In their defence, the flight attendants claimed many years of service for the airline, with Chew commencing in 1987 and Leong in 1992. They also said they had no awareness of company policy around the use of hire cars, and had no recollection of signing any documents agreeing to the policy when the Cabcharge cards were issued.
Chew and Leong also claimed they had not received any financial benefits from paying for the trips with two Cabcharge cards rather than one, and would have been eligible to pay for two separate fares with separate Cabcharge cards had they travelled to the airport separately.
During the hearings, it was revealed Qantas had not kept a written record of the flight attendants signing an agreement outlining the policy.
In a decision handed down on August 12, Fair Work Commission deputy president Jeff Lawrence said while the pair should have been reprimanded over the breach of policy, they should not have been dismissed.
“There was no issue raised concerning either Mr Chew or Ms Leong’s record or capacity as flight attendants. There was no difficulty raised as to their ability to become part of the cabin crew again. Qantas stated that it had lost trust and confidence in them because of the breach of policy. I am sure however, that they have learnt their lesson. There is no chance of them repeating their error, in my view,” Lawrence said.
Along with reinstatement, the flight attendants had requested to be compensated for the time, but this claim was rejected by Lawrence.
“I find that the former is appropriate, but they should suffer some penalty because of the breach of policy. I decline therefore to order restitution of lost wages between their dismissal and the date of this decision,” Lawrence said.
A Qantas spokesman told SmartCompany “we are dissapointed and we are currently reviewing the decision”.
Employment lawyer Peter Vitale told SmartCompany the case is another reminder that businesses need to be careful when it comes to implementing and enforcing policy.
“The lynchpin of this decision was that Qantas was unable to demonstrate that its employees were aware of their policy or what their policy is,” Vitale says.
“That appears to be due to a breakdown in their procedures. They were unable to produce a signed copy of the policy or any evidence of an information program.”
“The key to success is to ensure policies are communicated to employees, employees understand them, and a record is kept on their permanent file,” he says.
Vitale also says the long service of the employees, who had been with the carrier since 1987 and 1992, played a role in the outcome.
“This is a case where, very clearly, the long service was an important consideration for the commission,” Vitale says.