If you choose to own or run a business that has employees, you have a legal and moral obligation to pay them. Seems simple right? Unfortunately, that is not always the case and so in Victoria, it is now a criminal offence to underpay or dishonestly withhold employee entitlements.
At HR Staff n’ Stuff we are lucky enough to work with a wide range of small, medium and large business, all of whom take their legal obligations regarding employees very seriously. They either work with Modern Awards, Enterprise Agreements or individual negotiations and deliver on their end of the agreement. To be honest, we wouldn’t work with them if they felt it was good business practice to rip off their employees but that’s not the focus of today’s blog….
We’ve all seen the stories on the news about high profile businesses underpaying employees. Some of these situations are legitimate errors but there have been far too many instances of employers doing the wrong thing deliberately so as of 1 July 2021 in Victoria, wage theft can be dealt with as a criminal matter.
Wage Theft as a Crime
What does this new legislation actually mean? In Victoria, it is now a crime to:
Wage Theft Criminal Penalties
If you chose to play footloose and fancy free with Awards, workplace agreements, contracts of employment or any of the legislation related to employee payments or entitlements you could face some very serious penalties:
When considering who is responsible and who can be charged or fined, the new wage theft laws apply to:
Is it Retrospective?
The Wage Inspectorate is limited to investigating wage theft offences that occurred on or after 1 July 2021. However, if in the course of investigating a complaint, any entitlements accrued prior to this date will be captured.
But they signed a contract!
What about those employees who agreed to and signed a contract to receive less pay and conditions. Nope, no, not happening, step away from the pen! You have a legal obligation to deliver minimum pay and conditions as per the award or workplace agreement applicable to your industry. An employee can not sign away these rights and it will absolutely be considered wage theft and attract the penalties outlined above.
If a complaint is made against you regarding wage theft, be aware that the Inspectors have significant powers. They are allowed to:
For clarity, penalties are for those who act deliberately and dishonestly when it comes to underpaying employees. Honest mistakes can and will occur and these will not be considered wage theft and will not attract criminal penalties but you will be expected to rectify any errors. So if you have made a mistake, follow the guidelines from the Fair Work Ombudsman or get in contact with the HR Staff n’ Stuff team asap for help we are always here when you need us!
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