Long-haired flight attendant wins job back

CLAY LUCAS
Last updated 15:35 24/07/2013
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THE LOOK BOOK: Rules in Virgin's employee styling guide.

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Male flight attendants - let your hair grow long. But only if you have a sick note.

A Virgin Australia flight attendant sacked for not conforming to the carrier's hairstyle bible has won a court fight against the airline which was trying to stop him getting his job back.

Early this year, David Taleski won an unfair dismissal battle against Virgin, which the airline appealed.

The airline had struggled for 15 months to get Taleski to comply with the company's personal grooming manual, The Look Book, before sacking him in October 2011.

The struggle over Taleski's hairstyle involved many meetings and the unfair dismissal case before Australia's Fair Work Commission took a year, two failed marathon conciliations and reams of evidence, much of it relating to haircuts, The Look Book and wigs.

After Taleski emerged victorious in January, the airline took the case back to the commission to appeal.

This morning, the commission's senior deputy president, Jennifer Acton, refused Virgin's appeal, writing in her judgment that she was not convinced there were any errors in January's decision to reinstate Taleski.

The trouble started in July 2010 when the attendant told his bosses he would be growing his hair longer than the stipulated collar-length for religious reasons, but soon afterwards said the new hairstyle was due to a medical condition that he was uncomfortable discussing.

During the next 13 months, Taleski provided Virgin with five medical certificates which, he argued, proved he was suffering from body dysmorphia disorder, relating to the length of his hair.

But Virgin never accepted that the certificates provided a diagnosis that explained the situation. After he was grounded, Taleski suggested a slicked-back ponytail look as a compromise, only to be rebuffed by airline managers because The Look Book has no male ponytails.

At haircut talks held with his bosses the following month, a new alternative style was also scotched after one manager formed a belief that Taleski had used bobby pins to achieve his latest look.

The cabin crew member was allowed to return to the skies wearing a wig, despite his worries the hairpiece would expose him to ridicule.

But Virgin sacked Taleski in October 2011 claiming that he had failed to provide medical evidence when asked for, that he persistently refused to conform to The Look Book, and had behaved improperly by trying to involve the airline's chief executive.

Fair Work commissioner Anna Lee Cribb in January found Taleski's hairpiece could confirm with The Look Book because the manual was effectively silent on the matter of a wig.

She also found that the attendant had provided medical evidence to back his claims of body dysmorphia disorder and although Taleski was not entitled to go over his managers' heads in the dispute, his conduct did not warrant dismissal.

She ordered Virgin to give Taleski his job back.

Taleski's solicitor Maurice Addison said his client was happy with today's decision to refuse Virgin's appeal.

Addison said his client had been working in a call centre, and now hoped to get back to work for the airline.

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"We look forward to him being back in the air next week," Addison said. "He loves flying, he wants to get back in the air. That's all he's ever wanted. He loves doing that job, and he's had a very good result."

- Sydney Morning Herald

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