A Perth business has copped a $15,840 fine for sacking a 16-year-old because the boy’s mother queried his pay.
Stephen Ashley was personally fined $2,640 and his business West Coast Propellers a further $13,200 by the Federal Magistrates Court in Perth following an investigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman.
West Coast Propellers repairs, services and sells aeroplane propellers and Ashley hired the teenager in November 2010, telling him he would be paid $5.32 an hour.
The boy’s mum contacted the Fair Work Infoline and received advice that the pay rate should be more than $7 an hour.
The mother met Ashley during her son’s first week at work to query the pay rate he had been offered.
Immediately after the meeting, Ashley told the employee his employment had been terminated.
Fair Work inspectors investigated the matter after the teenager and his mum lodged a complaint.
Fair Work Ombudsman Nicholas Wilson says the court’s decision shows breaching a young worker’s rights is a serious matter.
“Under the Fair Work Act, it is unlawful to dismiss or take any other adverse action against an employee for exercising a workplace right, such as querying or complaining about pay rates,” Mr Wilson said.
“We treat breaches of young worker’s rights particularly seriously because young workers are often not aware of their rights or can be reluctant to complain.”
Charles Power, partner at law firm Holding Redlich, told SmartCompany employers still had responsibilities to employees even when they were within their probationary period.
“Quite often these types of dismissals take place early in the employment relationship, people start work then they think ‘Gee, am I being paid the right amount’ and then they are let go during the probationary period,” he says.
Because the employees have been dismissed before the minimum six-month period required to access unfair dismissal laws they cannot challenge their dismissal as an unfair dismissal.
“But if there is scope to say the decision to let them go was motivated by the fact they asked too many questions about whether they were being paid correctly, then you are going to get into trouble,” Power says.
Power warns employers if they are going to dismiss an employee even within the six months probationary period they should have a proper reason for doing it and document the process.
“The FWO is continuing to target cases where it is concerned about marginalised people in the workforce like foreign nationals, people with impairment and, in this case, young workers,” he says.
“The FWO is constantly on the lookout for cases such as these to make an example to the rest of the Australian industry.”
West Coast Propellers declined to comment for the story.