A hairdresser which “generally” worked a 15-year-old apprentice for 50-hours a week has been fined $70,000 for underpayments.
NSW-based Hair-Rass Me underpaid the apprentice $14,507 in 2015-16, the Federal Circuit Court found.
The business, which has since been liquidated, and its director, who was also fined $7,873, have been ordered to back-pay the worker in full, plus interest.
The worker, aged between 15 and 17 at the time, generally worked 50-hour weeks and was underpaid through a lack of overtime, apprentice rates, penalty rates and annual leave entitlements.
In one case, the apprentice was paid just $300 for a week of work, despite being entitled to $653.90.
The apprentice was also not paid any superannuation and was not reimbursed for a training course she undertook, as required under the Hair and Beauty Industry Award 2010.
The director of the business had previously been informed about his wage obligations in prior Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) dealings and failed to comply with a notice to produce employment records.
“Employers have a lawful responsibility to make themselves aware of the minimum wages and entitlements that apply to their employees and to pay them in full. Ignorance of the law is never an acceptable defence for exploitation of workers,” fair work ombudsman Sandra Parker said of the case.
Routinely asking an employee to work 50-hour weeks is ill-advised, according to workplace lawyer Peter Vitale.
Vitale tells SmartCompany business owners can land themselves in hot water if they consistently ask employees to work onerous hours beyond the 38-hour full-time threshold in national employment standards.
“Most awards say an employee can be required by the employer to work reasonable additional hours,” he says.
“The law actually sets out a number of criteria assessing what’s reasonable in any particular case and talks about risks to health and safety, employee personal circumstances, employer needs, additional pay and how much notice is given.”
Vitale says while a blanket conclusion can’t be drawn on whether working 50-hour weeks is “unreasonable”, a case could be made if the behaviour is routine.
“When you’ve got a young apprentice who’s starting out there’s probably more of an argument that it’s not reasonable as a regular practice,” he explains.
Importantly, overtime needs to be paid accordingly and in many awards that includes hours worked after 6pm, even if total hours worked that week fall under the full-time threshold.
“A lot of awards say any hours worked after 6pm must be paid at overtime, even if it’s part of the ordinary eight hours a day,” Vitale says.