A former director of a Sydney newspaper publisher has been fined after threatening and dismissing a journalist who sought assistance from the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO).
Theodore Skalkos, sole director of F.L. Press Pty Ltd, has been ordered to pay $27,500 in penalties to a former employee of the Novosti newspaper by the Federal Circuit Court.
The journalist contacted the FWO for assistance in 2010 after F.L. Press announced his full-time employment would be converted to part-time, moving from five days to two days per week. He reported at Novosti between 2003 and 2011.
The employee informed Skalkos of the FWO’s advice in relation to the changes, which included redundancy for the full time role and payment in lieu of notice of termination.
The Court found Skalkos threatened not to pay the employee’s entitlements unless the worker signed a statement saying he agreed to the change in his working conditions.
Moreover, during this period, Skalkos told the journalist he would be dismissed entirely if he did not complete both his own duties and those of an editor who was on leave, inside his normal hours.
The company dismissed the journalist in January 2011 for various reasons, including requesting assistance from the FWO.
Skalkos argued that the dismissal was due to the pending closure of the Novosti but the newspaper continued to operate.
Judge Robert Cameron found the threats and final dismissal were adverse action, describing Skalkos’s conduct as “bullying and intimidatory behaviour”.
“It is important that employees be able to report matters to the Ombudsman without fear of the sort of threats of reprisal which [the employee] suffered and in which Skalkos was personally involved,” said Judge Cameron.
Ombudsman Sandra Parker said serious conduct like this undermines the workplace relations system.
“Under the Fair Work Act, it is clearly unlawful to take adverse action against a worker for seeking assistance from the Fair Work Ombudsman,” said Parker.
“This legal action is a warning to all employers that we will not tolerate any intimidation of employees who exercise their rights.
“Workers should be aware that they are legally protected from any adverse action if they come to us.”
Moreover, in 2015 Judge Cameron ordered the company to pay a total $127,904 to the worker for underpayments including unpaid redundancy entitlements and failure to make a payment in lieu of notice of termination, plus interest. However, Skalkos was not involved in underpayments.
The company paid $5,000 of this amount before being liquidated in 2016 and is now deregistered.