Virgin loses hair-raising struggle

A VIRGIN Airlines flight attendant sacked for not conforming to the carrier's hairstyle bible has won his unfair dismissal battle.

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

But Mr Taleski provided medical evidence that he felt compelled to wear his hair long because he was suffering from a body image disorder and had even taken to the skies in a wig to try to solve the impasse.

The epic struggle over Mr Taleski's hairstyle involved many meetings with senior airline management and at one point the chief executive of Virgin Australia, John Borghetti, was asked to intervene.

The unfair dismissal case before the 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.

The commission heard evidence from a Virgin manager denying the haircuts authorised by The Look Book were too conservative and that it simply ''reflected how a typical guest expects a male employee to look''. The manager conceded that the manual ''reflected the most conservative interpretation of what the typical guest would expect''.

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, Mr Taleski provided Virgin with five medical certificates which, he argued, proved he was suffering from body dysmorphic disorder, relating to the length of his hair. But Virgin never accepted that the certificates provided a diagnosis that explained the attendant's persistent refusal to cut his hair.

After he was grounded because of his hair in April 2011, Mr Taleski suggested a slicked-back ponytail look as a compromise, only to be rebuffed by airline managers.

Virgin is understood to be considering appealing the decision.