An employer has opted for posting a public apology and repaying some $17,000 owed to a staff member rather than endure litigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) – but this is no ‘one-off’.
In a rising trend among workplaces to avoid court, the FWO has negotiated numerous such terms between employees and employers to settle matters. Most recently, business director Giacomo Ferretti will take out an advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald and pay nearly three times the $6,600 maximum penalty that could have been imposed if the matter in question had gone to court. The employer admitted to terminating his employee's contract without paying out his annual leave, and Ferretti's apology is one of 34 enforced undertakings by the office of FWO since 2009.
Not all ‘undertakings’ have taken the form of public apologies and payouts. Coles and James Hardie are two companies to have donated $20,000 and $10,000 respectively to organisations promoting employee rights at work. In both cases, the recipients of the cash injections were far from coincidental – Coles donated to the cause of pregnant women’s rights at work, and James Hardie to that of employees with disabilities. Coles had been reprimanded for having moved a pregnant employee into a more menial job, with a lower salary, when management become concerned she could not do heavy lifting. Likewise, James Hardie had rescinded its offer of employment to a business development manager after the applicant failed a medical exam, despite the outcome not being relevant to the job.
Additionally, FWO has also recently required two employers – Cotton On and Sadamatsu Katsuyoshi, who operated the Japanese restaurant Masuya in Sydney – to publish apologies on the Facebook walls of their businesses.