Underpayment of Wages Punishable by Jail Time in QLD

Punishment for wage underpayment

In the last sitting before the Queensland state election, the Palaszczuk Government passed legislation on 9 September 2020 making it a criminal offence for employers to knowingly underpay their staff. Directors and business owners can face jail time.

NatRoad does not condone businesses underpaying their employees, or any breach of Australia’s workplace laws. But it is our experience in providing support to members that where an underpayment has occurred it is not as a result of a deliberate decision to underpay. Whenever we have identified payment issues it has been due to the complexity of the industrial relations system, or at worst, a lack of understanding or mistaken belief.

What members need to know

  • From 10 September, wage theft is a criminal offence in Queensland punishable by up to 10 years in prison for ‘stealing’ and a maximum of 14 years in jail for an offence of fraud. This is the second jurisdiction to introduce legislation following the Victoria Parliament passing similar legislation in June this year. (Albeit similar, there are a number of differences between the way the law works so getting separate advice for Victoria’s regime is recommended.)
  • Workers, or a Union on behalf of a worker, can initiate the process by making a complaint to Queensland Police.
  • The process involves conciliation for cases up to $20,000.
  • Workers, or a Union on behalf of a worker, can initiate a civil claim instead, through a new Industrial Magistrates Court if they choose.

What members need to do

Now more than ever, employers need to get pays right. This means:

  • Ensure your staff are being paid correctly under the relevant Modern Award or enterprise agreement, keeping in mind pending changes to Award minimum rates of pay from the first full pay period on or after 1 November 2020.
  • Be sure to factor in allowances, overtime and other relevant award or enterprise agreement entitlements to ensure you are paying pursuant to an award or enterprise agreement

NatRoad advisors can give you confidential advice about you whether you are paying wages in accordance with the relevant modern award or enterprise agreement correctly, and demonstrate that your business has not knowingly underpaid staff even if a mistake is made.