Employers warned about accidental wage underpayment

Employers warned about accidental wage underpayment

Employers are being urged to learn about the Queensland Government's new legislation that could see directors and business owners face jail time for knowingly underpaying staff.

The State Government recently passed legislation making it a criminal offence for employers who engage in underpayments.

Margaret Goody, Akyra HR Strategist, says the laws need to be at the forefront of employers minds as underpaying often happens accidentally.

"Akyra does not support underpayment of wages nor any breach of Australia’s workplace laws," says Margaret.

"However in our experience, employers almost never deliberately underpay. Whenever we have worked with our clients and a payment issue has been identified, it has been due to either a misunderstanding of the relevant Award or, sometimes, a lack of attention or oversight."

Margaret claims employers need to pay attention to details such as Award wages, which could cause people to make a costly mistake.

"It’s the little things that trip employers into inadvertently paying the incorrect wage in accordance with the Award"

"For example – as a business owner, you might think that, as you pay above the Award, you don’t have to worry about the additional hours that employee works.

"However, if the employee were to be paid in accordance with the Award for all hours worked including penalty rates and overtime, that employer might find the ‘above Award’ wage is actually less than what the employee should be paid.

"It’s a completely honest mistake, however, under this new legislation, it could very well be classed as wage theft and the associated legal complications that come with it."

What do employers need to know?

  • From today, wage theft is a criminal offence in Queensland punishable by up to 10 years in prison for ‘stealing’ and a maximum of 14 years in jail for an offence of fraud.
  • Workers, or a Union on behalf of a worker, can initiate the process by making a complaint to Queensland Police.
  • The process involves conciliation for cases up to $20,000.
  • Workers, or a Union on behalf of a worker, can initiate a civil claim instead, through a new Industrial Magistrates Court if they choose.

What do you need to do?

Now more than ever, employers need to get pays right. This means:

  1. Ensure your staff are being paid correctly under the relevant Modern Award or enterprise agreement, keeping in mind recent changes to Award minimum rates of pay and conditions
  2. Be sure to factor in allowances, overtime and other relevant award or enterprise agreement entitlements to ensure you are paying pursuant to an award or enterprise agreement

Be Confident You Are Paying Correctly

Akrya can work with you to so you are paying wages in accordance with the relevant modern award or enterprise agreement correctly, and demonstrate your business is paying the correct wage or has unknowingly underpaid staff. In the second scenario, Akyra can work with you to develop a communication plan including when the correct rate will be applicable from and when any identified backpay will be processed.

What next

Contact Akyra to book a time to discuss your areas of potential concern (no obligation; no cost) who will then provide a way forward where it might be needed.