Okay, we freely admit this headline is slightly misleading – rather, Luke Urso a member of cabin crew for Australian flag carrier, Qantas wasn’t sacked for drinking while on a trip but for what happened after he had been drinking. And now Urso has lost an appeal he brought against his dismissal at Australia’s Fair Work Commission.
It all started last summer when Urso went out drinking with a colleague while on a layover in New York on 20th July 2017. Urso was working a 7-day trip which would see him fly from his base in Brisbane to Los Angeles and then onto New York before working the same route back to base.
While in New York, Urso went to the 230 Fifth Rooftop Bar in Manhatten where he drank two peach martinis and three gin and tonics – an amount that Urso claimed was well within his normal tolerance levels. But a short time later, his colleague found him collapsed in the toilets and an ambulance was soon called.
Urson had to be taken to Greenwich Hospital where his blood alcohol levels were found to be 0.205% – by comparison, the Australian drink drive limit is just 0.05%. The cabin crew member, who had been working for Qantas since February 2016, was discharged from the hospital at 6 am the next day but Urso called his manager to say he was too sick to work the return flight to Los Angeles.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Urso’s brief stay at Greenwich Hospital cost Qantas approximately $20,000 and he then had to be deadheaded back to base the next day.
Less than a month later and Urso had been suspended from duty pending disciplinary proceedings – Qantas accused Urso of serious misconduct, claiming he had drunk an “excessive amount of alcohol”, and breached the airline’s policies and procedures for cabin crew members. By September 2017, Urso had been sacked by the airline.
Supported by the Flight Attendants’ Association of Australia, Urso took his case to Australia’s Fair Work Commission in a bid to win back his job. Urso said the five drinks he consumed that night in July 2017 was well within is normal alcohol tolerance and he suggested that his drink might have been ‘spiked’.
Urso also dismissed claims he had been vomiting as written in his dismissal notice and noted that the hospital intake assessment said he was “awake”, “alert” and “able to answer questions” when admitted to Greenwich Hospital.
In written evidence to the commission, it was claimed Mr Urso would have needed to have consumed over 10 standard alcoholic drinks to reach the recorded blood alcohol level. And while Urso had only recently returned to work after heart surgery, there was no suggestion that this could have impacted his health during the New York layover.
But deputy president Lyndall Dean for the Fair Work Commission dismissed Urso’s application, saying he was fully aware of Qantas’ rules for cabin crew while on a layover – and that he should have known he had to be ready and able to attend work when required.
“Mr Urso’s claim that he could have five alcoholic drinks without compromising his ability to operate the next day, in my view, was unfounded and was proved to be wrong,” Dean wrote in her judgement.
“I am unable to conclude that his dismissal by QCCA was unfair and I do not consider his dismissal was disproportionate to the gravity of the misconduct.”