Nov 16th, 2023
The Fair Work Ombudsman has once again emphasised its commitment to ending underpayment and penalising repeat offenders. While bigger organisations have been in the news lately for large-scale wage theft, a recent case highlights how smaller businesses must be equally vigilant with fulfilling their obligations to their employees.
The subject of recent investigation has been a restaurant that was first audited in October 2019 after multiple employees approached the Ombudsman with concerns surrounding their pay rates. Compliance Notices were subsequently issued to the business with the expectation that it resolves its breaches of the Fair Work Act 2009, in part through paying employees the $24,412.85 that they were owed. The company was also given a deadline of January 2021.
Not only had the restaurant and its former director failed to comply with these notices, they made deliberate attempts to circumvent their obligations by providing false documentation showing employees had been remunerated to Fair Work Inspectors on 12 individual occasions in early 2021.
These breaches resulted in legal proceedings commencing in December 2021. A court then ruled that, alongside paying employees to rectify instances of wage theft, a further $26,000 of fines would be imposed on the company and its former director.
Despite this, the company continued to disregard the Notices, and were summoned to court a second time on the 31st of October 2023 following a recent request for assistance from a worker. This resulted in the restaurant having to repay the worker, as well as significant fines – the company is now required to pay $137,196, and the director has personally been fined $27,439.20. The judge noted that these amounts are intended to punish the extensive and deliberate violations of the Fair Work Act, as well as serve as deterrents to others who may be considering in engaging in similar behaviour.
This news serves as a timely reminder of the positive obligations to comply with notices issued by the Fair Work Ombudsman. Business operators should keep in mind that they can be held personally liable if their companies engage in breaches of the Fair Work Act 2009.
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