Director fined $100,000 for “heartless” treatment of employees

by Victoria Bruce23 Mar 2016
The employment watchdog has ordered a former company director to pay almost $100,000 for “heartless” treatment of employees, including unfair dismissal.

The Fair Work Ombudsman found Tasmanian businesswoman Wendy Langridge avoided paying $16,000 in worker’s entitlements to thirteen former long-term textile mill employees.

Federal Circuit Court Judge Phillip Burchardt said Langridge took advantage of her employees after realising the company was facing financial difficulties.

"She knew the company could not afford to pay its debts ... (and) in a fashion that could at the lowest be described as thoughtless but at the highest be described as heartless, effectively took advantage of the employees," Judge Burchardt said in the Federal Circuit Court. 

Langridge, former director of the now-liquidated Tasmanian company Mowbray Mill, was found to have stood down six workers in 2013 avoided paying wages, leave, termination and redundancy entitlements, and failed to pay a further seven, each of whom were owed up to $22,000.

The Fair Work Ombudsman investigated Langridge and found she avoided paying the thirteen former mill employees $160,000 in worker’s entitlements, in part by transferring her business, James Nelson, into another entity, Waverley-based company Southern Textile.

This transfer of business was made after the Fair Work Ombudsman sought an undertaking from the company not to disperse its assets, except to pay the workers their outstanding entitlements.

The court heard that although Langridge knew she wouldn’t be able to pay her workers their redundancy payments, she still made various promises to them that they would be paid.

“She must have known that having the employees stood-down without any form of payment and/or working and not being paid was extremely detrimental to them,” Judge Burchardt said when handing down the penalty.

He also noted that Langridge’s treatment of her staff had a “heart-wrenching” effect on her workers.

“The picture [Langridge] has sought to present is one of her being unwittingly placed in an impossible position,” Judge Burchardt said.

“I do not accept that this is the case. She has never apologised directly to the employees concerned,” he said.

“While I have no doubt that she is very sorry that things have come out as they have, the picture that emerges for me is that her primary regrets are more concerned with herself and her husband than with the employees.”

Langridge has been slapped with a $98,000 fine, equivalent to 80 per cent of the maximum penalty of $122,400, and has also been banned from being involved in any further breaches of workplace laws in the textile industry.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James says this case should set an example for other company directors who show blatant disregard for their workplace obligations.

"To actively betray long-time, loyal employees and then cause them hardship in a bid to protect personal interest is breathtaking," she told the ABC.

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