Virgin flight attendant sacked over ponytail wins unfair dismissal case

A Virgin Airlines flight attendant has been reinstated by the Fair Work Commission after being sacked for having a hairstyle which was not authorised by the airline.

Virgin’s style manual, The Look Book, requires all male flight attendants to have hair no longer than collar length. Flight attendant David Taleski was sacked in October 2011 for having a ponytail which contravened the guide.

Taleski claimed the sacking was an unfair dismissal after first telling his bosses at Virgin in July 2010 he would be growing his hair longer for religious reasons.

He then said his new hairstyle was due to a medical condition that he was uncomfortable discussing. He provided Virgin with five medical certificates over the course of a year to establish he was suffering from body dysmorphia disorder, relating to the length of his hair.

But Virgin never accepted the diagnosis and Taleski was grounded because of his hair in April 2011.

After being grounded, Taleski suggested a ponytail as a compromise but Virgin’s management refused this request as The Look Book does not include any male ponytails.

The flight attendant was allowed to return to work in the air after he agreed to wear a wig between July and October 2011.

But Virgin sacked Taleski in October 2011 on the basis that he had failed to provide medical evidence when requested, persistently refused to conform to The Look Book and had behaved improperly by trying to involve Virgin’s chief executive, John Borghetti, in the dispute.

The commission heard evidence from a Virgin manager who denied the haircuts in the style manual were too conservative.

“He denied that it was a conservative view and said that he thought that it was typical of the majority of people,” the Commission found.

“It was conceded that the Look Book reflected the most conservative interpretation of what the typical guest would expect.”

But Fair Work commissioner Anna Lee Cribb found Taleski’s hairpiece could conform with the manual because it did not include any guidelines for wigs.

The commissioner also found Taleski had provided medical evidence to back his claims of body dysmorphia disorder and although he did not follow proper dispute resolution procedures, his actions did not warrant dismissal.

“I determine that Mr Taleski’s dismissal was harsh, unjust or unreasonable,” the commissioner found.

She said the company had treated Taleski differently to another employee who suffered from the same condition and was non-compliant with its style guide.

“There was no valid reason for his dismissal and the outcome had been determined prior to the allegations being formally put to him.”

Taleski declined to comment but his solicitor Maurice Addison told SmartCompany there were no disciplinary issues with Taleski and he was otherwise an “exemplary” employee.

“He just couldn’t comply with one of their requirements because of an illness, which seemed harsh to me. It’s like asking a crippled man to walk,” he says.

“He has been reinstated to his position at Virgin and he just wants to get on with life. He is happy with the result and will be going back on the job.”

Melissa Thomson, manager for corporate communications at Virgin, told SmartCompany the airline is reviewing the decision.

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