Country medical practice faces sanctions after paying staff as it liked

25 September 2011

The Fair Work Ombudsman has taken action against a country Victorian medical practice which told a part-time receptionist it could pay her as it liked because it was a small business with flexibility over how to reward staff.

The Angelsea Medical Centre has been instructed to withdraw an employment agreement offered to its part-time employees in June last year.

And it must provide the workplace regulator with evidence that staff are being paid according to the terms and conditions of the Health Professionals and Support Services Award 2010.

Previously, staff were asked to “pick a number” to determine the order in which they would be paid penalty rates on a rotational basis for working on public holidays.

The medical centre must apologise to one receptionist it dismissed after telling the female employee “we don’t clap with the same hand, we row in different boats” after the worker queried her wages and conditions.

The written apology – approved by the Fair Work Ombudsman – expresses “sincere regret” for the centre’s failure to comply with its lawful obligations and gives a commitment to ensure its future compliance.

After admitting its contraventions, the operator of the Great Ocean Road centre – Ivanho and Kew Pty Ltd – has entered into an Enforceable Undertaking with the Fair Work Ombudsman as an alternative to litigation.

The agreement requires a number of actions from the company secretary, Ms Woon Lan Melissa Kew, wife of the centre’s doctor and sole director, Dr Loke Wan Ivan Ho.

After having earlier agreed to her part-time hours being reduced, one of the centre’s receptionists expressed concerns when given an employment agreement to sign in June last year, and did not immediately authorise it.

Subsequently, Ms Kew asked the receptionist to select one of several pieces of paper she had in her hand numbered one to three. Having drawn the number three, Ms Kew explained that this meant the receptionist would be the third employee to receive payment for working on public holidays, on a rotational basis.

When the receptionist challenged the process, Ms Kew advised that because the centre was a small business, she had the flexibility to reward her employees as she liked.

Further, Ms Kew advised that a casual loading would be paid at the rate of 25 cents an hour, when it was actually payable at the rate of 25 per cent of the applicable base rate of pay.

Three days after questioning her entitlements, the receptionist was called into a meeting with Ms Kew. Before the meeting, she wrote a letter to Dr Ho outlining her concerns about the contract she had been asked to sign.

During the subsequent meeting, the receptionist advised Ms Kew that she believed her contract needed to comply with the National Employment Standards and the Modern Award.

In response, Ms Kew responded with words to the effect of: “we have never got on. We don’t clap with the same hand; we row in different boats”.

Further, Ms Kew told the receptionist she was afraid because: “your daughter is a lawyer and we don’t like surrounding ourselves with people who are associated with lawyers and legal people”.

The receptionist asked if she was being dismissed and received confirmation that she was.

Four days later, the receptionist received a text message from another staff member advising that she had placed a letter in her mailbox. The letter terminated her position on the grounds the position had been made redundant.

The Fair Work Ombudsman calculated that during her employment, when the receptionist was paid $16.70 an hour instead of the minimum applicable hourly rate of $16.99 an hour, she was underpaid a total of $901.80.

However, given the medical centre paid redundancy on termination to which she was not entitled - and as the receptionist was not out of pocket - this matter is not being pursued.

The requirements of the Enforceable Undertaking include:

  • A written apology to the staff member dismissed for querying her entitlements,
  • Withdrawal of the company’s part-time employment agreement,
  • Evidence that the centre has made current employees aware of their rightful terms and conditions,
  • Attendance at an accredited training course in workplace obligations, and
  • A self-audit of employment records to determine whether any other current and former staff have been underpaid.

Copy of undertaking: Enforceable Undertaking Ivanho Kew Pty Ltd (PDF 429.7KB)

Media inquiries:

Cameron Jackson, Media Adviser, Media and Stakeholder Relations
0457 924 146
cameron.jackson@fwo.gov.au

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