Qantas Fined $250,000 for Standing Down Employee During Pandemic

A group pf Qantas aircraft parked together showing Flying Kangaroo tails
Photo Credit: Josh Withers via Pexels

Australian airline Qantas has faced significant repercussions for its actions against an employee who raised concerns about COVID-19 safety protocols in 2020.

The national carrier has now been fined $250,000 by a NSW Court for discriminatory conduct. The Court ruled that Qantas had illegally stood down the worker, after he raised safety concerns.

Early Days of the Pandemic

Theo Seremetidis, a trained health and safety representative for Qantas subsidiary Qantas Ground Services (QGS), found himself at the center of this controversy.

As the COVID-19 pandemic began to unfold in early 2020, concerns regarding the safety of employees cleaning planes arriving from China escalated.

Seremetidis, acting on his responsibility as a health and safety representative, reportedly instructed colleagues to cease cleaning and servicing these planes due to potential virus transmission risks.

Following these actions, Qantas took the decision to suspend him from his duties within a matter of hours.

This decision by the airline subsequently sparked the current legal proceedings. Counsel for Seremetidis argued that his suspension constituted unlawful retaliation for raising legitimate safety concerns.

Qantas aircraft parked at domestic terminal.
Kgbo, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Court Ruling and Repercussions

The NSW District Court ultimately ruled in favor of Seremetidis. It found Qantas guilty of breaching workplace health and safety laws and engaging in discriminatory conduct.

Judge David Russell, while delivering the verdict, emphasized the “shameful” nature of Qantas’s actions. He found they had attempted to justify the suspension with fabricated reasons after the fact.

The court imposed a significant penalty of $250,000 on Qantas, serving as a deterrent against similar actions in the future.

Additionally, Qantas agreed to compensate Seremetidis with $21,000. This formed compensation for the financial losses and emotional distress he endured due to the unlawful suspension.

According to national broadcaster ABC News, a Qantas spokesperson said the airline accepted the penalties.

“We agreed to compensation for Theo Seremetidis and the court has today made orders for that compensation to be paid,” the spokesperson said.

“We acknowledged in court the impact that this incident had on Mr Seremetidis and apologised to him.

“Safety has always been our number one priority and we continue to encourage our employees to report all safety related matters.”

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Importance of Employee Rights and Safety

This case serves as a crucial reminder of the importance of upholding employee rights and ensuring safe working environments.

Employees, particularly those designated as health and safety representatives, should be empowered to raise concerns about potential hazards without fear of retaliation.

Organizations have a legal and ethical obligation to foster a culture of open communication. The need to address such concerns in a constructive and transparent manner.

The Qantas case demonstrates the potential legal and financial consequences faced by companies that disregard these fundamental principles.

Beyond the Headlines: Broader Implications

This incident also sheds light on the broader challenges faced during the early stages of the pandemic.

As information about COVID-19 rapidly evolved, companies grappled with the need to adapt protocols and ensure employee safety amidst heightened uncertainty.

The case highlights the importance of clear communication, and collaboration between employees and management. It calls for adherence to established safety protocols, especially in the face of emerging health risks.

The Qantas case serves as a cautionary tale for organizations and a reminder of the critical role played by employee voices in maintaining a safe and healthy work environment.

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By Len Varley - Assistant Editor 4 Min Read
4 Min Read
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