A company’s payroll manager has been fined $7,000 in a recent prosecution brought against the company by the Fair Work Ombudsman regarding discovered underpayments of wages.

This is the first time someone at the level of payroll officer, as opposed to a company director, has been fined for a contravention of the Fair Work Act. The company itself was also fined $116,000, and ordered to make back payments.

The payroll officer had been directly involved in the systematic underpayment of two overseas workers, which totalled approximately $18,000.

What this means for payroll and financial officers

This decision signals that the Fair Work Ombudsman is willing to prosecute more than just a company and its directors, and the courts are prepared to follow through by issuing fines.

The case is part of a broader change in prosecution policy by the Fair Work Ombudsman. It has publicly stated that it will more actively target individual managers in a business where underpayments are discovered, under the accessorial liability provisions of the Fair Work legislation.

These provisions state that any person who is involved in a company’s contravention of the Fair Work Act can be personally subject to fines of up to $10,800 per contravention.

While these provisions have existed since the Fair Work regime commenced in 2009, the Ombudsman has not sought to target lower level managers. This latest move shows that has now changed.

Apart from payroll officers and company directors, the Ombudsman is now likely to look to prosecute other roles such as HR managers, financial officers, accountants, and many members of management.

What employees in financial positions can do to protect themselves

Now, more than ever, it’s important to make sure that employers and all managers throughout each business are aware of their workplace obligations, and are compliant with them. Ignorance will be no excuse.

This means having a good understanding of employment law, including employer obligations such as contracts and modern awards.