‘Mr Singh was, to be blunt, well and truly caught out.’ Picture: iStock
‘Mr Singh was, to be blunt, well and truly caught out.’ Picture: iStock

Boss pockets $12k parental leave

A NSW service station owner who pocketed his employee's $12,000 parental leave payment from Centrelink and then created fake records to "deceive" investigators has been slapped with a whopping fine.

Kulpreet Singh, the former manager and part-owner of the United Petroleum roadhouse and restaurant at Marrangaroo, near Lithgow in NSW's central west, has been fined $19,720 and his company Noorpreet Pty Ltd a further $98,700 by the Federal Circuit Court in a case brought by the Fair Work Ombudsman.

It's the first legal action brought by the workplace cop over failure to transfer Paid Parental Leave funds to an employee.

"Mr Singh was, to be blunt, well and truly caught out by the FWO, perpetrating a deliberate falsehood in relation to the false payment record," Judge Nick Nicholls said.

The Indian woman, who was 29 at the time, worked as a chef at the roadhouse on a 487 skilled regional employer nomination visa. After she had a child in 2015, the Department of Human Services transferred $11,538 to Noorpreet for the company to transfer to her.

After repeatedly asking Mr Singh for the money, she complained to DHS, which referred the case to the FWO for investigation.

In an interview with Fair Work inspectors in 2015, Mr Singh claimed he had paid the employee her parental leave in cash.

"I'm ready to pay this again," he said. "If you guys think I did something wrong I'm ready to pay her again."

Mr Singh later provided a Fair Work inspector with a false document purporting to prove the payment was made to the employee's husband. Mr Singh eventually paid the money in October 2015, more than five months late, after the FWO challenged the veracity of the document.

In court, Mr Singh and Noorpreet admitted committing a contravention of the Paid Parental Leave Act 2010, as well as a number of contraventions of record-keeping and pay slip laws under the Fair Work Act.

The penalties imposed for the record-keeping contraventions were between 75 and 90 per cent of the possible maximums and the penalty for the paid parental leave contravention was 75 per cent of the possible maximum.

Justice Nicholls said Mr Singh had engaged in a "deliberate deception" and sought to mislead government agencies. He said the failure to transfer the parental leave pay was "an express and active intervention".

"The respondents' submissions here are that, in essence, after Mr Singh was approached by [the employee] in April 2015 in relation to her paid parental leave entitlements, he became 'confused' as to how to make the payments, given a daily maximum bank transfer limit of $2000," he said.

"Further, by April 2015, Mr Singh had made a number of 'cash payments' to [her] and her husband, and was 'confused' as to what he had paid her and for what purpose.

"It must be said that the 'excuse' proffered by Mr Singh now, that he delayed payment because he did not know how to achieve such payment ... because of bank transfer limits, stretches to incredulity."

He argued Mr Singh had not displayed any true remorse and that some of his excuses were "absurd". He said the possibility of bankruptcy in setting a high penalty "cannot weigh in Mr Singh's favour in relation to the assessment of deterrence".

"Even if this were to be a consequence of the penalty order, it is not a sufficient reason to not set the penalty at the otherwise 'appropriate' level," he said.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said the conduct was completely unacceptable. "New parents have enough on their minds without having to chase recalcitrant employers over their taxpayer funded paid parental leave," Ms James said in a statement.

"Any employer thinking they can cover up breaches of work laws by creating false records or lying to Fair Work Inspectors - beware. There are new higher penalties for record-keeping breaches and the risk of criminal prosecution for this self-serving and fraudulent conduct."

New penalties came into effect in September 2017. Maximum penalties for failing to keep employee records or issue pay slips have doubled to $63,000 for a company and $12,600 for an individual, and the maximum penalty for knowingly making or keeping false or misleading employee records has tripled to $12,600 for an individual.

 

frank.chung@news.com.au


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