First employer charged under wage theft law

Business could face a fine of up to one million dollars in landmark case

First employer charged under wage theft law

The Macedon Lounge and its owner are facing more than 90 criminal charges for allegedly underpaying employees, marking a landmark case where an employer is prosecuted under a wage theft law.

The Wage Inspectorate Victoria said the restaurant and its owner are both facing 47 charges each after they allegedly withheld over $7,000 in employee entitlements, including wages, penalty rates, and superannuation, of four former staff members.

This is the first time in Australia where an employer faces charges for allegedly breaching Victorian Wage Theft Act 2020, which was passed in July 2021. If found guilty, the company could face a fine of over $1 million, while up to 10 years of jail time await guilty individuals.

The company is set to appear in court on Feb. 21, 2023.

"The Wage Inspectorate has been investigating complaints, interviewing witnesses and exercising our coercive powers. We take each report seriously and will prosecute where appropriate, as per our Compliance and Enforcement Policy," said commissioner Robert Hortle in a statement.

Wage theft in Australia

Under the law, wage theft offences involve deliberate and dishonest conduct from employers. Honest mistakes committed by employers are not classified as wage theft.

Joe Murphy, partner employment relations at law firm Piper Alderman, previously told HRD that whoever brings up the prosecution must be able to demonstrate that there is a deliberate and dishonest underpayment or withholding of wages.

Queensland also considers wage theft as a criminal offence, but no charges have been raised against employers so far in the state.

In Western Australia, the government recently established a new Supplier Wage Audit to combat wage theft.

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