A random audit at a fast food restaurant in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs uncovered some of its workers were being underpaid and in some cases having their wages docked if the cash register was short.
The Doncaster fast food business, which was not named, was audited as part of the Fair Work Ombudsman’s recent national hospitality campaign.
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The ombudsman found the business was unlawfully docking the wages of staff for cash register shortages, for breakages and for accepting cash notes that were torn between 2013 and 2014.
It also found workers were being short-changed their minimum hourly rate and penalty rates on weekends, with some staff being paid a flat hourly rate of $17 instead of the $25.17 an hour they should have been getting on weekends.
The fast food restaurant has been ordered to pay back about $9000 to 12 current and former employees, with the largest payment of $1200 going to one employee.
The Doncaster workers are among 30 in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs back paid more than $76,000 following recent interventions by the ombudsman.
Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said in a statement the latest breach was a reminder to employers to check their workplace safety practices.
James says the ombudsman, which sought a commitment from the business that the behaviour would not be repeated, took the matter seriously because the deductions “clearly” only benefited the employer.
“Deducting money from employee wages as a punishment, or as some sort of performance management tool, is completely unlawful.
“And it is clearly not a constructive way of encouraging staff to improve their performance if there are performance issues that need addressing.”
Russell Kennedy employment lawyer Libby Pallot told SmartCompany the case was “actually surprising in this day and age”.
“The Fair Work Ombudsman provides enough information with regards to compliance,” she says.
She says the ombudsman’s website provides specific examples that deductions of wages for underpayment of a till are “not on and unreasonable”.
“I also think it’s particularly important that these sorts of audits are done in the fast food industry, which is often employing people under 18, who tend not to speak up.”
She says it is “common sense” that employers should not deduct wages for employees for till shortages.
“You can only make these sorts of deductions if the employee agrees to it in writing.”
She says small businesses should take advantage of the information provided by the Fair Work Ombudsman if they are unsure of their obligations.
“I would have thought as a first point of call, a small business ought to be guided by the info from the FWO or otherwise obtain legal advice,” Pallott says.
“I think small businesses should take advantage of the information. This exact example is on there.”
Pallot says if you are still in doubt, in relation to deductions or minimum amount of pay, you should get some advice.
“There is no excuse for a business of any size for not providing employees minimum wage and acting in accordance with the Act,” she says.