Victorian Wage Theft Bill 2020 passes, introduces criminal offences for employers

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In the middle of a pandemic that has left the nation in economic turmoil and prompted Australia’s first recession since 1991, the Victorian Government has passed the Wage Theft Bill 2020 (Vic) which puts employers around Victoria at risk of criminal prosecution.

The Bill creates new criminal offences in Victoria for employers and their officers who “dishonestly” withhold money owed to employees, or fail to keep or falsify records.

The Victorian Government pushed ahead with the Bill, despite strong objection from the National Retail Association and others about introducing such legislation at a time when many small businesses are struggling to recover from the effects of COVID-19, and adequate protections already existing at the Federal level.

Notably, employers do not need to have any actual knowledge of the conduct in order to be considered ‘dishonest’. Employers could be prosecuted on a number of grounds, including the conduct occurring because of ‘recklessness’, or because there is a ‘corporate culture’ that led to the conduct occurring.

There are however a number of defences available under the legislation if the employer is able to demonstrate that they exercised due diligence. Due diligence would include, but is not limited to:

  • carefully reviewing and confirming all employees’ legal entitlements;
  • ensuring that all employees are being paid in compliance with contracts of employment, applicable Modern Awards, and the National Employment Standards; and
  • ensuring that your commitment to compliance with industrial relations laws is clear in the attitudes, policies, and practices of your business.

For additional peace of mind, businesses may wish to consider obtaining independent professional advice. NRA Legal offers comprehensive reviews of payroll and compliance systems tailored to meet the needs of individual businesses, including payroll audits and provides expert advice on regulatory investigations and enforcement powers.

If you are struggling to navigate the industrial relations system and want to ensure that you do not fall afoul of this new legislation, please contact our Workplace Relations advisors on 1800 572 679.

Contact our team today