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Anonymous tip-offs expose workplace breaches

Thousands of anonymous tip-offs about potentially unlawful workplace practices are helping the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) hold employers to account.

The FWO has received more than 90,000 anonymous tip-offs since it launched its Anonymous Report tool in 2016, with almost 13,000 in 2021-22.

Anyone can make a tip-off. In addition to tip-offs from members of the public, anonymous reporting provides an option for vulnerable workers to raise issues with the FWO while choosing not to identify themselves. This includes options to provide anonymous reports directly in 16 languages other than English. In 2021-22, reports in Simplified Chinese, Korean, Traditional Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese were the most common after English.

In 2021-22, most anonymous tip-offs came from the hospitality industry (which includes fast food, restaurant and café outlets), retail industry and health support services industry. The most common issues reported were working excessive hours without compensation, workers being paid ‘cash in hand’, or workers being paid less than an industry award or the National Minimum Wage.

In one matter, the FWO received reports from various employees of a newly established café chain that alleged underpayment of wages. The anonymous tip-offs each included an Australian Business Number (ABN) and business owner name, which helped FWO determine that workers from different café locations were all reporting underpayments.

The FWO commenced a number of investigations and ultimately took legal action against two businesses within the café chain. This included action against the brand owner and a company of which he was director. In that matter, the court ordered total penalties of $170,000, with a penalty of $130,000 imposed on the company and $40,000 on the company director.

There’s little doubt navigating the myriad of Awards, rates and entitlements can be challenging for employers. And while FWO often cut employers some slack when they identify a genuine error, penalties for willful underpayment of wages and entitlements can be significant. One example? A $475,200 penalty against the operator of a café brand for exploiting young Taiwanese students in Sydney.

Getting things right starts with identifying the correct Award and Award classification for each member of your team. While this might seem a little daunting or time consuming, it’s a smart way to manage your employment risk. Anther? Finding someone who can help. We know just the guy.

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