Where is your Workplace? Well Done Qantas!

In February 2014, Steven Gregory, a Qantas pilot flew from Sydney to Santiago with 3 other crew members. They were all put up in a hotel in Santiago for 2 night’s stopover before the return flight. On the first evening in Santiago all 4 crew members went out for dinner together.

Steven Gregory separated from the group for about half an hour and on his return his behaviour had significantly changed, becoming rowdy and very uninhibited. The other 3 crew members decided to take him back to the hotel and while in a taxi on the way back he massaged the breast of one of the female crew members.

His behaviour was reported (hooray!) and Qantas acted appropriately testing him for drugs (cannabis was found) conducting a thorough investigation and then dismissing him for serious misconduct.

Mr Gregory lodged an unfair dismissal claim and the Fair Work Commission said that despite his 20 years of good service to Qantas his behaviour constituted serious misconduct and Qantas’s actions in firing him for justified.

This case identifies a whole lot of interesting facts that many employees and employers may not realise. The one I want to focus on is what constitutes a workplace and therefore triggers the protection of workplace laws like sexual harassment?

On the surface you may think, that while what the pilot did was inappropriate it was not during his work time (he had finished flying the plane) and it was not on Australian soil and therefore Australian workplace laws did not apply.

Why then did Qantas fire him?

The answer is that employers are responsible for the actions of their employees anytime a workplace connection is established.

Common workplace connections include the staff Christmas party even when it is on the weekend and at a restaurant. In addition attending a conference for work and any behaviours that happen anytime during that conference including at night time and outside the parameters of the conference schedule are also considered to be a workplace connection.

In the example I have just discussed the pilot and the crew had just completed a flying shift and were on layover until they were due to work again and fly back to Australia. The hotel they stayed in was booked by Qantas and the only reason they were there was because they had flown there as part of their job and were waiting to fly back. All of this lead the court to conclude there is a workplace connection and therefore nay inappropriate behaviours that occurred between the crew during that 2 day layover would be subject to the sexual harassment laws.

This is a warning to employers to educate their staff regularly about workplace behaviour laws and especially when the laws apply.

As an aside well done to the crew member who reported it and to the other crew members who supported her story. Well done to Qantas who have a zero tolerance for sexual harassment and managed the investigation appropriately and well done to the Fair Work Commission who supported the protection of the victim and the actions of Qantas.