2 min read

Employee dishonesty can outweigh long service and a prior unblemished employment record

The Case

Qantas Airways Limited v Dawson (2017)

Mr Dawson, aged 50, was a flight attendant with Qantas for 28 years. Qantas dismissed Mr Dawson after an investigation that found he had stolen alcohol during a flight.

Prior to making the decision to dismiss, Qantas asked Mr Dawson to respond to the allegations of theft. In his initial response, Mr Dawson indicated that he had inadvertently pocketed some alcohol while serving passengers and that gin had been obtained from a hotel mini bar. In a subsequent response he admitted to taking the two beers from the ice draw during the flight and said he did not know how the gin came into his possession.

Qantas dismissed Mr Dawson relying on the theft and his dishonesty during the investigation as reasons for terminating his employment. Mr Dawson filed an unfair dismissal claim with the Fair Work Commission (FWC).


At first instance, the FWC found the dismissal was harsh given:

  • Mr Dawson’s 28 years’ service;
  • Mr Dawson’s otherwise unblemished employment history;
  • the low value of the alcohol stolen;
  • Mr Dawson’s age of 50 years, which meant it would be difficult for him to obtain another job as a flight attendant;
  • Mr Dawson had corrected his response despite being initially untruthful; and
  • Mr Dawson had medical and family issues prior to the incident that had given rise to the dismissal.

Mr Dawson was awarded the maximum compensation of 26 weeks’ pay because, it was said, he would have spent the next 15 years working as a flight attendant before he retired.

Qantas appealed the decision to the Full Bench of the FWC. The Full Bench allowed the appeal and quashed the decision at first instance.

The Full Bench held that insufficient importance had been attached to Mr Dawson’s dishonesty and that his version of events was still inaccurate as the hotel minibar did not stock miniature bottles of gin. Furthermore, Mr Dawson’s personal circumstances could not excuse the theft or dishonesty.

The matter was reheard on the papers by the Full Bench which found Mr Dawson was not unfairly dismissed.

Lessons for you

The decision demonstrates that theft and dishonesty for reasons of dismissal, can outweigh an employee’s long service, personal circumstances and prior unblemished employment record. However, it is important to follow Qantas’ example and thoroughly investigate the matter and provide the employee with an opportunity to respond prior to making the decision to dismiss.

Please note: Case law is reported as correct and current at time of publishing. Be aware that cases in lower courts may be appealed and decisions subsequently overturned.

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