Real Estate Firm And Senior Managers Fined Over Duress To Pregnant Worker

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26th November 2009, 11:00am - Views: 626





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Fair Work Infoline: 13 13 94 





Media Release





    26 Nov 2009



Real estate firm and senior managers fined for

applying duress to pregnant worker


A

real estate company and two of its senior managers who tried to coerce a

heavily pregnant worker into accepting a new job on a lower salary after she

returned from maternity leave have been fined more than $23,000 in the Federal

Magistrates Court in Darwin.


RHD Pty Ltd, which trades as Raine & Horne, has been penalised $16,500 and

Anthony William Easther and Donald Bruce Oldman have each been fined $3300

following a prosecution by the Fair Work Ombudsman.


Federal Magistrate Janet Terry imposed the penalties after RHD, Easther and

Oldman admitted applying duress to a pregnant book-keeper who was about to

go on maternity leave in April, 2007.


At the time, Easther was RHD’s company secretary in the Northern Territory and

Oldman was general manager in South Australia.


Easther asked the employee to sign a variation to her workplace agreement

requiring her to accept a different clerical position and which reduced her salary

from $46,000 to $33,500.


The Court heard the employee felt “pressured and confused” by the request and

refused to sign the document.

   

Easther and Oldman told the Court they believed the employee had previously

verbally agreed to the changes.


They instructed RHD’s payroll officer to withhold $2591 in annual leave

entitlements and wages owing to the woman until she agreed to sign.


The managers admitted in Court this amounted to duress.


Federal Magistrate Terry described the behaviour of Easther and Oldman as

“serious”.


“It was carried out by two men who were part of the senior management of the

company, and men who had considerable experience in business,” her judgment

says.


“It is difficult to accept that Mr Oldman and Mr Easther genuinely believed that

(the employee) had so readily agreed to accept an alternative position in the

company at a salary 25 per cent less than she had been receiving …



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People Feature Fair Work Ombudsman 2 image






Fair Work Infoline: 13 13 94 


2


“… and even if they did believe this for a time after their conversations with (the

employee), it must have become clear to them by the time (the employee) was

due to go on maternity leave that she was not happy to sign …’’


Federal Magistrate Terry found that the two managers “nevertheless applied

illegitimate pressure in an attempt to coerce her” and placed the employee in a

difficult position.


She told the payroll office she needed the money as she had just been on holiday,

was about to have a baby and was also moving house.


After the employee lodged a complaint with the Fair Work Ombudsman and

inspectors contacted the company, she was paid all entitlements owing.


The woman no longer works for RHD.


Fair Work Ombudsman NT Director Sharon Blandy says workplace bargaining

must be conducted in an environment that is completely free of duress and

coercion.


“This outcome is a reminder of the consequences for companies and individuals

who fail to negotiate with workers openly and fairly,” she said.

Ms Blandy said employers should also be aware the Fair Work Ombudsman can

now investigate allegations of discrimination in the workplace and prosecute

employers for contraventions.

“This includes discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, sex, sexual

preference, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, family or carer

responsibilities, pregnancy, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social

origin,” she said.

“The Fair Work Ombudsman has established a specialist anti-discrimination team

to handle inquiries, register complaints and drive initiatives aimed at educating

businesses on how to avoid discrimination in the workplace.”

The Fair Work Ombudsman promotes harmonious, productive and co-operative

workplaces. It also monitors compliance and investigates breaches of national

workplace laws.


Employers or employees seeking assistance should contact the Fair Work Infoline

on 13 13 94 or visit www.fwo.gov.au For translations call 13 14 50.





Media inquiries: 


Craig Bildstien, Director Media & Stakeholder Relations. 0419 818 484.

craig.bildstien@fwo.gov.au


Ryan Pedler, Senior Adviser Media & Stakeholder Relations. (03) 9954

2561, 0434 365 924. ryan.pedler@fwo.gov.au






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