Fiddling the books is never a good idea, especially when the Fair Work Ombudsman has come calling, as a hapless HR manager has found out to his personal cost. The law provides for action to be taken against employees involved in contraventions of the awards or the legislation and the Federal Circuit Court has found the HR manager guilty.
The company had made unauthorised deductions from the employees’ wages, under the title of ‘admin fees’, but when the FWO asked for the wages records, the deductions did not show up. The records had been doctored to hide the deductions from scrutiny.
At trial, the HR manager alleged he was unaware of this practice but the court dismissed this as improbable, especially given the interactions he had with the FWO over an extended period. The court found that the manager had knowledge of the breaches of the award and Act and this in turn triggered the relevant provisions of the law which can hold an employee personally liable.
This is not the first time that the courts have used s.550 of the Fair Work Act to hold HR managers accountable for their actions. And in earlier cases, the defence of ‘merely following orders’ was found to be no excuse either.
Employees must be aware that unless they can prove they did not, through commission or omission, involve themselves in contraventions of awards, enterprise agreements or the Fair Work Act, they risk exposure to prosecution and conviction under this law. Gone are the days when the blame for the breaches is attached solely to the conveniently anonymous employer entity, with individual employees now being held accountable.