[2016] FWC 8249 [Note: This decision has been quashed - refer to Full Bench decision dated 24 January 2017 [2017] FWCFB 41]


Fair Work Act 2009
s.394—Unfair dismissal

David Dawson
Qantas Airways Limited



Application for relief from unfair dismissal.

[1] On 18 May 2016 Mr David Dawson (the Applicant) lodged with the Fair Work Commission (the Commission), pursuant to s.394 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (the Act) an application for a remedy for unfair dismissal against his former employer Qantas Airways Limited (Qantas)

[2] The Applicant commenced employment as a flight attendant on 8 February 1988. He was notified of his dismissal on 28 April 2016 and the dismissal took effect on the same day. He received five weeks’ pay in lieu of notice, having been an employee of Qantas for 28 years. The Applicant is 50 years of age. The Applicant seeks reinstatement and/or compensation.

[3] The Applicant was dismissed because a small amount of alcohol, the property of Qantas was found on him, in a random search of the crew following a flight from Perth to Sydney on 14 February 2016. There were different versions of what was found and the issues around the search but it is not denied that some alcohol was found. The Applicant says that dismissal was disproportionate to the offence and the dismissal, in the circumstances, harsh, unjust or unreasonable.

[4] Qantas says that there was a clear breach of company policy which was not denied by the Applicant. The Applicant did not make full disclosure during the investigation process which it says was entirely appropriate. It further says that the relationship of trust has broken down between Qantas and the Applicant and it cannot be repaired.

Commission Proceedings

[5] The matter was conciliated on 16 June 2016 but could not be resolved.

[6] A telephone programming mention was held by me on 31 August 2016.

[7] The hearing took place on 12 and 13 September 2016 in Sydney.

[8] The Applicant was represented by Mr I Latham of counsel. Qantas was represented by Mr M. Follett of counsel. Both were granted permission to appear pursuant to s. 596 of the Act.

[9] The Applicant relied on written and oral submissions and a witness statement of himself (Exhibit L1).

[10] Qantas relied on written and oral submissions and the following witness statements:

[11] An order to produce was issued on behalf of the applicant. There was an argument about the production of material relating to the treatment of another employee. I decided to consider this material as part of this case on the basis that that employee’s privacy would be preserved.

Protection from Unfair Dismissal

[12] An order for reinstatement or compensation may only be issued where I am satisfied the Applicant was protected from unfair dismissal at the time of the dismissal.

[13] Section 382 sets out the circumstances that must exist for the applicant to be protected from unfair dismissal:

[14] The applicant was covered by an enterprise agreement, Flight Attendants Association of Australia – International Division Qantas Airways Limited and Qantas Flight Cabin Crew Australia Pty Limited Enterprise Agreement 2012. In addition, his salary was $67,462 per annum which is well below the high income threshold. It was conceded, therefore, that he was a person protected from unfair dismissal in accordance with s.382.

[15] Section 396 provides that certain matters must be determined by the Commission before proceeding to deal with the merits of a matter. It provides:

[16] None of these matters were at issue in this case.

Was the dismissal unfair?

[17] A dismissal is unfair if I am satisfied, on the evidence before me, that all of the circumstances set out at s.385 of the Act existed. Section 385 provides the following:

[18] No issue was raised pursuant to s.385(a), (c) or (d).

Harsh, Unjust or Unreasonable

I must consider whether I am satisfied the dismissal was harsh, unjust or unreasonable. The criteria I must take into account when assessing whether the dismissal was harsh, unjust or unreasonable are set out at s.387 of the Act:

The Applicant’s Submissions

[19] When the flight from Perth to Sydney landed at about 8.45pm on 14 February 2016, 9 crew members were taken to a room and searched. The applicant criticised the search because it may have let other crew members dispose of the stolen property in the toilet. In any event he was found to have 1 can and 1 bottle of beer in his jacket, a 50ml bottle of gin in his bag and 2 50ml bottles of vodka in his trouser pockets.

[20] Qantas sent the Applicant a letter on 19 February asking him to respond to allegations, which he did by letter on 4 March. An interview took place on 10 March. The Applicant was supported by a representative of his Union, the Flight Attendant Association. The Applicant provided Qantas with a further written response on 23 March. On 31 March Qantas accused him of not being truthful during the disciplinary process. The Applicant responded on 5 April. He was given a “show cause” letter on 14 April to which he responded on 18 April. He was terminated on 28 April by letter given to him in a meeting.

[21] The Applicant admitted to removing the beer from the flight but said that the vodka was in his pocket inadvertently. He said he did not know how the gin came to be in his bag.

[22] The Applicant submitted that he has been treated differently to other employees who have been found to have taken Qantas property from the flight but have not been dismissed. This included at least one employee from the same flight who was subject to the random search.

[23] The Applicant says that his personal circumstances were not taken into account by Qantas. These included:

[24] In his response of 4 March 2016, the Applicant said that the beer and the gin were inadvertently pocketed by him as a result of serving passengers. He also speculated that the gin may have gotten into his bag from a hotel mini bar the day before the flight. In his letter of 22 March, the Applicant admitted that he had deliberately taken the two beers from the ice draw. He continued to assert that the vodka was inadvertently in his pocket. No explanation was provided for the gin. The first explanation appears to have been withdrawn.

[25] The Applicant was contrite for his actions and explained his misleading explanation as arising from panic due to his fear of losing his job.

[26] Qantas’s show cause letter of 14 April 2016 was comprehensive. The allegation was theft of the alcohol and a misleading and deceptive response to the allegations. He was asked to “show cause” why he should not be terminated. The Applicant did not dispute these allegations but argued that dismissal was not the appropriate response for the reasons mentioned above. These included significant health and stress problems arising from the surgery and motor vehicle accident that he had in 2015.

[27] The Applicant submits that two other crew members on the flight were found to have Qantas’ property without authorisation but one was not dismissed.

[28] The Applicant also questioned the effectiveness of the search. This was because other flight attendants had an opportunity to dispose of items. As well, the vodka and can of beer were originally noted as being in the Applicant’s bag which was not true. It was said that this error pre-disposed Qantas to take serious action.

Qantas’s Case

[29] Qantas submits that it carried out an extensive process of investigating the events and gave the Applicant ample opportunity to respond to the allegations.

[30] The Applicant was dismissed because of a breach of Qantas’s Standards of Conduct Policy, that is, removing the alcohol and misleading in the investigation as to how he came to have possession of the alcohol.

[31] Notwithstanding the Applicant’s personal circumstances, Qantas submits that the dismissal was not harsh. He had access to Qantas’s property in an unsupervised situation. It is essential that these policies be upheld.

[32] Qantas says that it took the Applicant’s length of service, his good record, his age, health and family circumstances into account.

[33] However, it came to the view that dismissal was the appropriate response. Ms Vivian was the ultimate decision maker.

[34] Fiona Morris maintained her version that one beer and the vodka were found in the Applicant’s bag. This is supported by Chris Matkaris. Samantha Vivian, who was the decision maker in the dismissal, accepted this version of events. Her evidence was, however, that even if she had accepted the Applicant’s version that one beer and the vodka were in his pocket, she would have still terminated him. She also took the view that the Applicant was not genuinely remorseful. It is apparent that the Applicant’s lie during the investigation was the decisive factor in the decision to dismiss because of the breakdown in the level of trust that this represented.

Valid Reason – s.387(a)

[35] In Container Terminals Australia Limited v Toby [2000] Print S8434, a Full Bench said ‘In our view, the consideration of whether there was a valid reason for termination is a separate issue from the determination of whether a termination was harsh, unjust or unreasonable’.

[36] Northrop J in Selvachandran v Peteron Plastics Pty Ltd (1995) 62 IR 371 said:

[37] In Parmalat Food Products Pty Ltd v Wililo, [2011] FWAFB 1166, the Full Bench held:

[38] The Full Bench majority in B, C and D v Australian Postal Corporation T/A Australia Post [2013] FWCFB 6191 provides a useful summary of the approach to be taken by the Commission in weighing the factors to be considered under s.387:

[39] I respectfully adopt this approach.

[40] The Applicant was dismissed because he stole Qantas property and because he gave a false explanation, which he subsequently changed during the investigation. It was a small quantity of alcohol but Qantas has strict policies about theft of such company property. This is entirely understandable.

[41] The Applicant’s version is set out in this exchange in cross-examination:

[42] The Applicant changed his story on 22 March so that he admitted he deliberately took the two beers but said that he had accidentally taken the vodka. Initially, the Applicant gave a rather fanciful explanation for the bottle of gin being in his bag. He then took the position that he had no explanation for its presence. His original story had been that he accidentally took the beers as well.

[43] There was a difference between the Applicant’s evidence as to the location of one of the beers and the vodka during the search. The Applicant’s version, that they were in his pockets, is more supportive of his explanation that the vodka was there by mistake. Fiona Morris and Chris Matkaris testified that the items were in his bag. This was recorded at the time of the search.

[44] I find the Qantas evidence more credible at this point. The Applicant signed the record of contents found although he said that he disputed it. I accept Ms Morris’s and Mr Matkaris’s evidence on this point.

[45] In any event, the Applicant admitted to stealing the two beers. His explanation for inadvertently taking the other items is not credible. This was clearly contrary to Qantas policy. As well, the Applicant charged his story during the investigation after giving an incorrect explanation. I am therefore satisfied that there was a valid reason for his dismissal.

Notification of a valid reason – s.387(b)

[46] Notification of a valid reason for termination must be given to an employee protected from unfair dismissal before the decision is made, Chubb Security Australia Pty Ltd v Thomas Print S2679 at [41] in explicit terms, Crozier v Palazzo Corporation Pty Ltd (2000) 98 IR 137, 151 and in plain and clear terms, Presvisic v Australian Quarantine Inspection Services Print Q3730. In Crozier v Palazzo Corporation Pty Ltd (2000) 98 IR 137 a Full Bench of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission dealing with similar provision of the Workplace Relations Act 1996 stated the following:

[47] I am satisfied that the Applicant was notified of the reason for his dismissal well before the decision was made. Qantas carried out an appropriate investigation process. The Applicant did not make any challenge on procedural grounds.

Opportunity to respond s.387(c)

[48] An employee protected from unfair dismissal must be provided with an opportunity to respond to any reason for dismissal way to ensure the employee relating to the conduct or capacity of the person. This criterion is to be applied in a common sense is treated fairly and should not be burdened with formality RMIT v Asher (2010) 194 IR 1, 14-15.

[49] It follows that the Applicant had an opportunity to respond.

Unreasonable refusal by the employer to allow a support person – s.387(d)

[50] Where an employee protected from unfair dismissal has requested a support person be present to assist in discussions relating to the dismissal, the employer should not unreasonably refuse that person being present.

[51] A union official was in attendance at the meetings.

Warnings regarding unsatisfactory performance – s.387(e)

[52] This factor was not relevant in this case.

Impact of the size of the Respondent on procedures followed – s.387(f)

[53] The Respondent is a large business so this was not a factor.

Absence of dedicated human resources management specialist/expertise on procedures

followed - s.387(g)

[54] It follows that this was not a factor.

Any other matter that the FWC considers relevant

[55] Section 387(h) allows the Commission to consider any other matters it considers relevant. These must be considered in the context of the object of Part 3 - 2 of the Act contained in s.381(2) to “ensure that a ‘fair go all round’ is accorded to both the employer and the employee concerned”.

[56] There were a number of factors which the Applicant relied on to support his argument that his dismissal was disproportionate to the crime committed. These included:

I have taken these matters into account and together they lead me to the view that the dismissal was harsh.

[57] The other matter which was raised by the Applicant was the alleged different treatment of another flight attendant on the flight. As well as the Applicant, two flight attendants were found with Qantas property on the flight. One was dismissed. The other was not because Qantas says it had insufficient evidence that the property had been stolen. Of course, I have not heard evidence with respect to this case, but there is no reason to think that Qantas acted inappropriately. I have not taken this issue into consideration.

[58] Given the factors noted above, it would have been appropriate for Qantas to implement a penalty lesser than dismissal.

[59] Because of my finding as to valid reason I find that the dismissal was not unreasonable. I find nothing in the process adopted by the Respondent which makes it unjust. However, because of the factors I have considered pursuant to s.387(h) I find the dismissal to be harsh. Accordingly, I find that the dismissal was unfair within the terms of s.385.


[60] Having found that the dismissal was unfair, I now turn to the appropriate remedy.

[61] Section 390 of the Act sets out the circumstances in which I may make an order for reinstatement or compensation:

[62] Although the value of the goods stolen was small, I do not think reinstatement is appropriate in this case. I accept Qantas’s argument that the relationship of trust has broken down and cannot be repaired. It is important that flight attendants are able to be trusted with Qantas property. The fact that the Applicant changed his story is a crucial factor here. Reinstatement may be seen to condone theft in some way.

[63] Section 390(3)(b) provides that I may only issue an order for compensation to the Applicant if it is appropriate in all the circumstances.

[64] I have found that the Applicant has been unfairly dismissed and that reinstatement is not appropriate in all the circumstances. I am satisfied that an order for compensation should be made.

[65] Section 392 of the Act sets out the circumstances that must be taken into consideration when determining an amount of compensation, the effect of any findings of misconduct on that compensation amount and the upper limit of compensation that may be ordered provides:

[66] The method for calculating compensation under s.392 of the Act was dealt with by a Full Bench of the Commission in Bowden, G v Ottrey Homes Cobram and District Retirement Villages Inc. T/A Ottrey Lodge, [2013] FWCFB 431 (Bowden). In that decision the Full Bench set out the order in which the criteria and other factors should be applied, taking into account authority under the Workplace Relations Act 1996 in Sprigg v Paul’s Licensed Festival Supermarket, (1998) 88 IR 21 and Ellawala v Australian Postal Corporation, Print S5109 (Ellawala). I have adopted the methodology utilised in Bowden in determining the amount of a payment of compensation.

[67] I will now consider each of the criteria in s.392 of the Act.

Remuneration that would have been received: s.392(2)(c)

[68] The Applicant earned $67,462 per annum. I am satisfied that he would have remained a flight attendant for the rest of his working life which could have been 15 or so years. He could have earned $1,011,930.

[69] The Applicant has not earned income since the dismissal, but he has not sought employment.

Income likely to be earned: - s.392(2)(f)

[70] This matter is not relevant.

Other matters: - s.392(2)(g)

[71] There are no other matters that I consider appropriate to consider.

Viability: - s.392(2)(a)

[72] This matter is not relevant.

Length of Service: - s.392(2)(b)

[73] I have taken the Applicant’s service into account.

Mitigating efforts: - s.392(2)(b)

[74] In considering whether the Applicant has taken steps to mitigate the loss suffered as a result of the dismissal I should take into account whether the Applicant acted reasonably in the circumstances, (Ellawala).

[75] I consider that the Applicant has acted reasonably given his personal and family circumstances.

Misconduct: s.392(3)

[76] It is appropriate to adjust the compensation to take account of the fact that I have found that there is a valid reason for the dismissal. The compensation will be reduced to $500,000 on this ground.

Shock, Distress: s.392(4)

[77] I note that the amount of compensation calculated does not include a component for shock, humiliation or distress.

Compensation cap: s.392(5)

[78] I must reduce the amount of compensation to be ordered if it exceeds the lesser of the total amount of remuneration received by the Applicant, or to which the Applicant was entitled, for any period of employment with the employer during the 26 weeks immediately before the dismissal, or half the amount of the high income threshold immediately prior to the dismissal.

[79] The high income threshold component is $69,450.

[80] The compensation needs to be reduced to the salary cap.

[81] Accordingly, I will order the Respondent to pay to the Applicant an amount of $33,731 which is 26 weeks of the Applicant’s earnings.


[82] I am satisfied that the Applicant was protected from unfair dismissal, and that the dismissal was unfair and a remedy of compensation is appropriate. In accordance with s.381(2) of the Act, I am further satisfied that each party has been accorded a ‘fair go all round’.

[83] An Order (PR587782) will be issued with this decision.



I. Latham of counsel with T. Naji, solicitor for the Applicant.

M. Follett of counsel with J. McLean, solicitor for the Respondent.

Hearing details:


August 31 (telephone conference)

September 12, 13.

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