How long is too long? Air steward wins job back

In a case of corporate standards vs. self-expression and body image, a worker for Virgin has won his unfair dismissal battle after being terminated over the length of his hair and conduct.

How long is too long? Air steward wins job back

A Virgin Airlines flight attendant has won an unfair dismissal case which has dragged on since October 2011.

Prior to David Taleski being sacked in 2011, the airline had attempted to negotiate a compromise on the length of the employee’s hair but on each occasion negotiations broke down.

Virgin’s personal grooming manual prescribes male employees should wear their hair no more than 4cm long, be clean shaven at all times, and are not permitted to wear makeup. However, Taleski submitted medical evidence to his employer which confirmed he felt compelled to wear his hair long because of a body-image disorder. At one stage the airline and the employee even met at a compromise which had Taleski wearing a wig to try to solve the standoff, though this was short lived.

After months of failed negotiations, Taleski was sacked in October 2011 after the airline claimed he had failed to provide sufficient medical evidence to support his claims of body-dysmorphia. In addition, it was claimed his conduct was improper after trying to involved Virgin CEO John Borghetti.

After taking his dismissal before the Fair Work Commission, the arbitrator considered evidence from a senior Virgin manager who denied the airline’s hairstyle requirements were too conservative, and said the guidelines reflected the way customers expected male employees to look. However the manager agreed that the manual “reflected the most conservative interpretation of what the typical guest would expect”.

Yet Fair Work commissioner Anna Lee Cribb agreed that Taleski should be permitted to wear a hairpiece as the grooming manual was effectively silent on the matter of a wig.

Cribb also found that the medical evidence the employee had provided to Virgin was sufficient to support his claims of body dysmorphia disorder, and while Taleski should not have involved the CEO, his conduct did not warrant dismissal. She ordered Virgin to reinstate Taleski, though it has been reported that Virgin is considering an appeal.

Taleski did not comment publically, but his solicitor Maurice Addison said that his client had tried to comply with the airline's rules. “Virgin just slavishly applied a policy in a stupid way, and that's why he got sacked,” Addison said.

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