Slipup No Excuse

Cerin v ACI Operations Pty Ltd & Ors [2015] FCCA 2762 (14 October 2015)

Despite her behaviour being described as “incidental and inadvertent”, a HR manager has been fined personally by the Federal Circuit Court for her part in a relatively minor breach of the National Employment Standards.

The case revolved around whether or not a particular employee, on termination, was entitled to four or five weeks’ notice pay. He had received four and claimed five. The company believed because the employee was on workers’ compensation at the time, that the provisions of the state workers’ compensation legislation requiring 28 days’ notice for such a person, would apply.

In the end, the company realised it should have followed the NES and paid the five weeks, but the employee wanted money, written apologies and other demands which the company baulked at. The action once commenced in the court, endured.

The HR manager argued that she had merely signed off on what had been given to her by the relevant manager but the court found she was aware of the Fair Work Act and the NES. The court came to the conclusion that her actions were deliberate, that she knew the Fair Work Act provided the relevant provisions and that she should have intervened in the process.

Finding both the company and the HR manager culpable, the court imposed a $1,020 fine on the HR manager, and $20,400 on the company. The amount of money in dispute between the two parties was $181.66

This is not the first time individual employees in the management team of a company have been fined by the court separately to their company. Personal liability is growing in this area of the law and HR managers need to be well aware that they are vulnerable to prosecution if they even inadvertently slip up.