Hot on the heels of the criminalisation of wage theft in Queensland which we mentioned a few months ago, the Federal Government has (in December 2020) introduced a bill to amend the Fair Work Act so as to criminalise wage theft at a Commonwealth level. At the time of posting (17 December) the bill has not passed.
The bill requires that the wage theft is dishonest and systematic, and sets out indicia for those terms which makes for an easier assessment than the Queensland legislation which requires a fraudulent act.
Interestingly the Commonwealth legislation also clarifies that “an individual involved in the contravention” is liable to be prosecuted, which would include the officers of corporations where they have engaged in the conduct, and potentially other persons even if they are not officers.
Maximum penalties are very significant – imprisonment for 4 years and fines exceeding $1M for individuals, fines exceeding $5M for corporations.
All the more reason to be careful with wages and entitlement, and also to ensure that if it is a delegated task, it is reviewed externally to make sure it is being done correctly.