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Ex-Virgin chief pilot accuses CEO Jayne Hrdlicka of bullying

written by Hannah Dowling | April 13, 2022

Virgin Australia’s former chief pilot has accused CEO Jayne Hrdlicka of “bullying and harassment” as part of a Fair Work claim against the airline.

Michael Fitzgerald, who was also general manager of flight operations, argues the business violated his workplace rights by terminating his contract while he was on extended sick leave.

Virgin has told Australian Aviation it “unequivocally” denies the allegations and said it would be “vigorously defending the matter”.

Fitzgerald made the claims in court documents lodged at the Federal Circuit Court on Tuesday, which also state his seven-month extended absence was due to Hrdlicka allegedly engaging in “workplace bullying” against him. Despite these claims, he is seeking to be reinstated at the airline.

According to The Australian, court documents show that Fitzgerald was forced to seek medical advice in July 2021, marking the beginning of his extended absence from his role.

Three months later, Fitzgerald claims he was informed by the airline’s chief operating officer Stuart Aggs that “the CEO had lost confidence” in him, and that “it would be better for everyone if he didn’t return to his role and moved on”.

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Court documents say that within days, Fitzgerald was sent ­redun­dancy options via text message. Two months later, he filed an “application for an order to stop bullying” with the Fair Work Commission.

Later, in February 2022, Virgin Australia filed a show-cause notice over alleged IT security breaches and at that time threatened Fitzgerald’s dismissal.

Fitzgerald claimed there were no security breaches and he merely sourced non-confidential emails relating to the Fair Work case, and also claims Virgin’s show-cause filing was another instance of being “bullied and threatened” by the airline. Fitzgerald was terminated on 1 March this year.

Virgin stated the December 2021 allegations of bullying made against the airline were “investigated by an external party” the following month, and found to be “not substantiated”.

Further, commenting on allegations made specifically against Hrdlicka, a Virgin spokesperson said all matters around Fitzgerald’s employment were handled by Aggs, to whom Fitzerald reported directly.

“Mr Aggs was responsible for making all decisions in relation to Mr Fitzgerald’s employment,” they said, adding that Fitzgerald had only ever met with Hrdlicka on a one-on-one basis on two occasions, “as part of a professional development initiative”.

Virgin said that the chief pilot and general manager of flight operations role is “a critical senior regulatory role in Virgin Australia’s business and requires continuity and certainty of leadership”, however, had “supported Mr Fitzgerald for a period of paid absence from the business of more than seven months”.

“During that time, Virgin Australia discussed options for him to return to work. Mr Fitzgerald’s employment was only terminated following multiple independent assessments of his fitness to work,” a spokesperson said.

“We work hard to accommodate employees to manage physical and mental health challenges.

“Our sick leave programs for operational workgroups are regarded as very generous and where team members have exhausted their sick leave, we work with them individually to accommodate unique circumstances and we take advice from medical professionals on their ability to return to work.”

The matter is set to be heard in court on 13 June.

Comments (2)

  • Ashley

    says:

    Doubtful a CEO like Jayne Hrdlicka would be involved in ‘bullying’, because her job would be on the line IF she was, & nobody would be that stupid, in this day & age.

    Maybe this is just ‘sour grapes’ on the part of the now-terminated pilot.

    So let’s just see what the result is AFTER the court case.

  • AgentGerko

    says:

    Seven months off on full pay sick leave cos you don’t get on with the boss? What world of wuss does he live in.

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