The Department of Employment and Workplace Relations under investigation for underpayment

The FWO has revealed that it is investigating the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations after it disclosed underpayment of staff.
The Department of Employment and Workplace Relations under investigation for underpayment

Just days after the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) announced that Australian workers have been back-paid more than half a billion dollars for the second consecutive year, the regulatory body, and so-called ‘watchdog’ has revealed that one of its recent investigations is into none other but the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations (Department) after it disclosed its own underpayment of staff.

The Department first became aware in June this year that between July 2022 and August 2023, 99 staff had been underpaid, totalling $63,000, due to a calculation error concerning overtime, arising out of a departmental restructure and accompanying complications.

With individual underpayment amounts varying from $9 to more than $4,000, the department did self-report to the Fair Work Ombudsman on 9 August, 2023. In light of the fact that the Department tasked with developing wage theft legislation has identified underpaying its staff – Department Secretary Natalie James told a parliamentary hearing she “appreciates the irony as a former Fair Work Ombudsman”. Further details and comments aren’t available as the investigation is still ongoing.

While we can also appreciate the irony here, employers are encouraged to follow the Department’s example, investigate where potential issues have been raised, and self-report any underpayments where appropriate.

In the 2022-23 financial year alone, the FWO filed 81 litigations continuing to send clear messages to every single employer that they must place a higher priority on ensuring their businesses are meeting all their legal entitlements including improving payroll and governance practices.

More than half of last year’s recovered wages came from large corporate entities and university employers and combined have back-paid over $300 million to more than 160,000 underpaid workers.

On top of the 81 litigations filed, the regulatory body also issued 2,424 Compliance Notices and Fair Work Inspectors issued more than 620 Infringement Notices for record-keeping and pay slips breaches.

This situation is a reminder for businesses that no one is safe from underpayment claims, whether intentional or not, the buck stops with the employer.

This also acts as a timely reminder that Parliament only last week passed the introduction of wage theft laws. The criminal offence of wage theft will commence on 1 January 2025.

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If any of this information has raised questions about underpayments or you have another workplace matter, please contact our workplace relations experts via our HR Advice Line.

About our author

Brigitta Poulos is a Workplace Relations Consultant at Citation HR who loves helping clients and businesses achieve excellent workplace compliance with their obligations and duties, by way of interpretation of relevant employment legislation and awards. She particularly enjoys researching and explaining new or ‘hot’ topics in the workplace relations and human resources fields to our clients.


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