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Qantas had right to sack worker on leave who hadn’t gotten COVID-19 jab

The Fair Work Commission has ruled that national airline Qantas was able to sack a Jetstar manager who put off having a COVID-19 vaccine while she was on long-service leave.

user iconJake Nelson 21 April 2023 The Bar
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Editor’s note: This story originally appeared on Lawyers Weekly’s sister brand, Australian Aviation.

Brisbane airport duty manager Megan Willoughby said she believed the airline’s vaccine mandate didn’t apply to those not currently working, but FWC vice-president Ingrid Asbury decided that she was aware of the rules.

Qantas initially announced that all frontline staff across the group, including pilots, cabin crew and ground services workers, would be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by 15 November 2021, or face dismissal.


Ms Willoughby, who had worked for Jetstar for 15 years, delayed getting her COVID-19 vaccine until her return from long-service leave in May of 2022 — six months after the deadline.

In her submission to the FWC, Ms Willoughby argued she had not believed the vaccination policy applied to employees on long-service leave.

However, Ms Asbury pointed to emails between Ms Willoughby and a superior where the former had questioned why she needed to be vaccinated when not at work and if she would continue to be paid while on long-service leave if unvaccinated.

“I was left with the overwhelming impression that (Ms Willoughby) did all she could to create an appearance of confusion to cover her wilful refusal to comply with a lawful and reasonable direction given by her employer,” commissioner Asbury wrote in her ruling.

“This is not a case where a longstanding employee with an unblemished work history failed to comply with a policy because of an honest and reasonable belief that it did not apply. Rather, (Willoughby’s) noncompliance was wilful and unreasonable.”

Vaccine mandates have proven a sore point for numerous airline staff, with a group of Qantas workers last year suing the Flying Kangaroo in the Federal Court with a case that the judge labelled “unclear” and “unsatisfactory”, and a group of former Virgin employees taking their unfair dismissal case to the Fair Work Commission last March.

Qantas last July followed the federal government in dropping vaccine mandates for passengers.

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