No penalty for shonky Ombudsman advice

by Cameron Edmond14 Jan 2014
At the tail end of 2013, Minister for Employment Senator Eric Abetz announced that small business operators who act based on poor advice from the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) – specifically the hotline – will not be subject to prosecution.

This is a move to help alleviate fears of acting on information that may be incorrect. “If, in good faith, callers to the Small Business Helpline follow the Fair Work Ombudsman’s advice, they will not be the subject of future penalty proceedings by the Fair Work Ombudsman should it turn out that advice was incorrect,” Abetz stated.

The FWO has been known to provide accurate and thorough information to help business operators grow. Where possible, the FWO has opted to educate and increase compliance rather than prosecute when breaches such as underpayments are uncovered.

However, according to law firm Holding Redlich, at least one occasion last year saw a business penalised after acting on incorrect information provided by the Ombudsman’s office, indicating the need for concern.

To take full advantage of their protection, Ben Keenan, lawyer at Holding Redlich, stated that organisations should make sure to record all information relating to the call.
“Most calls to the Ombudsman’s info line are recorded by the Ombudsman, so if the small business owner keeps the reference number, it should be possible to obtain the recording of the call if they need to prove what was said at a later date,” he explained.
Keenan stated callers should take down the time and date, as well as the reference number – if the number isn’t volunteered by the Ombudsman’s staff, the caller should request it.
Should organisations be protected from acting on incorrect information? Have you had any dealings with the Ombudsman’s helpline? Share your experiences here.


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