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The HR Manager of a restaurant has been personally fined $21,760 under accessorial liability laws for involvement in underpaying workers at a restaurant in Charlestown.

In that matter, Federal Court Justice Robert Bromwich dismissed the HR manager Ting “Sarah” Zhu’s submission that her culpability was greatly reduced due to the fact she was following the owner’s directions. Justice Bromwich found the HR manager had “acted in her own interests” in knowingly facilitating the exploitation of workers and that “there is nothing wrong with sending the message that an employee should indeed resign if that is the only alternative to continuing to participate knowingly in illegal activity”.

Acting Fair Work Ombudsman Kristen Hannah says the successful legal actions send a clear message that her Agency is prepared to use accessorial liability laws to hold any party involved in the exploitation of vulnerable workers to account.

“The accessorial liability laws extend not only to culpable in-house managers at businesses that exploit their employees, but also to external advisers who facilitate the underpayment of workers,” Ms Hannah said.

“External business advisers need to understand that they must put compliance with the law above their own personal interests – or face serious consequences.

“The Courts have made it clear that if you are knowingly involved in the exploitation of workers, you can face significant penalties.

“These types of trusted advisers must explain the rules to their clients, make it clear when they are in danger of breaking them and not become involved in breaches of the law themselves,” Ms Hannah said.

Ms Hannah says employers should be aware that the Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Vulnerable Workers) Act 2017 has now come into effect, increasing the maximum penalties for conduct including deliberate exploitation of workers and false records.

Know Your Legal Obligations

To avoid big fines and penalties, expensive back-pay orders and damaging employee claims, employers must pay employees correctly in accordance with Australian employment laws such as the Fair Work Act 2009.

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