2018 is barely underway, and already a Melbourne child-care operator was fined $85,000 for the underpayment of two vulnerable workers. In addition to not receiving annual leave entitlements, the two child-care workers were underpaid for minimum ordinary hours, overtime and public holidays.

The operator of the child-care centre attempted to blame the underpayments on a lack of understanding on her part. However the judge gave no credit to this excuse, particularly given the operator had faced penalties of almost $20,000 back in 2014 for similar contraventions!

This case study highlights how being unfamiliar with your employment obligations will leave you and your business exposed. Yet “being unfamiliar” is no defence when you’re faced with maximum penalties in front of a judge.

In 2015 we saw the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) recover a massive $438,000 in back-pay for child-care workers across Australia. The child-care industry is often targeted due to high numbers of complaints and requests for assistance from employees in the industry.

In 2016/2017 the FWO conducted 4558 audits of businesses from which they recovered $5.5 million in unpaid wages. It goes without saying employers need to be on top of their game! Here are our top tips for staying on top of your employment obligations.

1. Read and familiarise yourself with statutory entitlements.

The Fair Work Act 2009 dictates a number of statutory minimums for employees relating to leave, maximum weekly hours, requests for flexible working arrangements, notice of termination and redundancy pay.

Did you know an employee who is entitled to annual leave loading under a Modern Award is entitled to the leave loading upon termination? Or that an employee over 45 years of age employed for 2 years or more is entitled to an additional weeks’ notice? These entitlements arise under the National Employment Standards (NES).

The NES are 10 minimum employment entitlements set out in the Fair Work Act 2009 that must be provided to all employees. As employers, understanding the NES is paramount to protecting your business from the fines that flow from non-compliance.

2. Find out your industry Award entitlements.

Employers need to understand if their employees are covered by a Modern Award, if so, which Award and the correct classification and pay level that applies.

Most employees in the child-care industry are covered by the Children’s Services Award or Educational Services (Teachers) Award. Interpreting these Awards can be challenging, yet employers are expected to know when overtime applies, what allowances are payable and what minimum and maximum hours of work are. HR Assured’s experienced workplace relations specialists provide advice and assistance to hundreds of employers in understanding and interpreting employers obligations under Modern Awards.

3. Know your obligations relating to employment records and pay slips.

Poor record-keeping practices are a significant hazard for any business. Did you know a pay slip must include details of any bonus, loading, penalties or monetary allowances paid to the employee? Or that employee records must be kept for 7 years? If you are unsure of your obligations HR Assured’s 24 hour Telephone Advisory Service is here to answer your questions!

4. Ensure internal systems and processes support legislative requirements.

Are you aware that you need to pay employees for the time spent opening and closing a centre or attending compulsory meetings or training? Employers must ensure procedures for recording hours worked by employees this into account and that employees are paid appropriately.

5. Regularly review employees’ wages and salaries along with their working patterns.

Often employers pay an annualised salary calculated based on a particular pattern of work. However where employers leave themselves exposed is by failing to review the salary where an employees work pattern changes or where minimum wages are increased. Employers must undertake a review of employees’ wages and salaries to ensure they remain compliant with the minimum entitlements under the Award.

6. Get advice!

Australia’s workplace relations system is complex and as an employer you are faced with a number of obligations that are difficult to understand let alone keep up with.

HR Assured’s 24 hour Telephone Advisory Service provides employers with the necessary support in keeping on top of your obligations in Australia’s complex regulatory scheme. With access to advice from experienced workplace relations specialists anytime you need it you can have peace of mind you and your business will be compliant.

With the Fair Work Amendment (Protecting Vulnerable Workers) Act now in effect individuals and businesses face significantly higher penalties for serious exploitative conduct that occurs today or in the future. Now is the time to get advice and get on top of your obligations. Contact us today.