Fair Work Ombudsman announces its priority list – Are you on the list?

On 13 July 2020, the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) announced its strategic priorities for the 2020-2021 financial year. These priorities are in addition to providing workplace support through the COVID-19 pandemic and the FWO’s ongoing role in addressing large corporate underpayments.

The FWO announced that fast food, restaurants and cafes, horticulture and the harvest trail, franchisors, and sham contracting will continue to be a focus of the regulator’s compliance and enforcement activities. This is in addition to dealing with complaints and tip-offs about employers alleged to not comply with their employment obligations.

The FWO advised that it will use a degree of flexibility in its approach to regulating Australian workplaces significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, planning to enforce workplace laws in a proportionate manner during the pandemic. The Compliance and Enforcement Policy has been updated accordingly.

 The FWO, Sandra Parker stated that:

“Due to the impact of COVID-19 on Australian workplaces, the number of employers and employees seeking our assistance has grown significantly. In response, we have adjusted our services and prioritised allegations of serious non-compliance with workplace laws, including in relation to the JobKeeper scheme,… A business’ financial position and viability will be considered when deciding whether to commence litigation for serious non-compliance or determining the size of any contrition payment included in any Enforceable Undertaking.”

Corporate Underpayments

With more than 60 businesses self-disclosing workplace law breaches with a total of half a billion dollars owed to workers to date, underpayments of staff in the corporate sector will continue to be a priority for the Fair Work Ombudsman due to the level of public concern.

Ms Parker stated in the FWO media statement that:

“Earlier this year I wrote to the CEOs and Boards of the top listed companies across Australia, calling for immediate action to assure themselves, their shareholders, workers and the community that their companies are meeting lawful obligations under the Fair Work Act. Large organisations need to place a much higher priority on rigorously reviewing workplace relations systems to ensure that paying workers what they are entitled to becomes the norm.”

The FWO has committed to providing education, advice, tools and resources to non-corporate employers and those hardest hit by COVID-19. The regulator will also uphold the integrity of the JobKeeper scheme through appropriate compliance activities that resolve matters quickly and efficiently.

However, NFPs and social enterprises will benefit enormously from seeking further guidance from a specialist employment lawyer to ensure they understand what they need to do to comply with Australian employment laws, specific to their organisation’s needs.

FWO information resources

Links have been provided for:

What can your business do to avoid problems?

We have seen many employers experience stressful and challenging dealings with the FWO because they were not aware of their employment obligations. This has included substantial financial impacts for NFPs in the last financial year. Recent cases have resulted in employers being penalised by the Federal Court:

  • $22,050 for failing to comply with a Compliance Notice issued by the Fair Work Ombudsman, requiring them to calculate and back-pay alleged underpayments of a former employee as well as rectify the underpayment plus interest;[1]
  • $22,440 penalty against the former owner-operator of a labour-hire company following the underpayment of 80 workers on a Queensland farm;[2] and
  • $264,690 in penalties against a former Sydney entrepreneur, his wife and three companies he operated in response to employees being underpaid more than $1 million.[3]

Unfortunately, many NFPs and social enterprises are not aware of the role the Fair Work Act 2009 and associated legislation plays in their operations until it is too late. Getting professional advice from an experienced employment lawyer will help you to establish a sound employment framework to avoid later disputes and compliance issues.

If you are concerned about your employment arrangements or would like to know more about how the FWO could affect your NFP or social enterprise, NFP Lawyers can assist you with advice and the documents you need to comply with your employment obligations. You can contact us at reception@nfplawyers.com.au or on (07) 3160 0010.

[1]    https://www.fairwork.gov.au/about-us/news-and-media-releases/2020-media-releases/july-2020/20200710-old-cop-shop-penalty-media-release

[2]    https://www.fairwork.gov.au/about-us/news-and-media-releases/2020-media-releases/july-2020/20200709-mushrooms-penalty-media-release

[3]    https://www.fairwork.gov.au/about-us/news-and-media-releases/2020-media-releases/june-2020/20200618-silver-matters-penalty-media-release

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The material distributed is general information only. The information supplied is not and is not intended to be, legal or other professional advice, nor should it be relied upon as such. You should seek legal or professional advice in relation to your specific situation.