The operator of a first aid services company has been hit with an enormous $300,000 penalty for stealing $13,715 in wages from his workers, which was described as a ‘flagrant disregard’ for staff.
Paul Tempany, who runs Acute Health Pty Ltd, was fined $50,000 and his company an additional $250,000 by the Federal Circuit Court, for ripping off six employees over nearly two years.
The details of the wage theft
The medical first responders were employed on a casual basis to provide first aid at events and functions in New South Wales and Victoria.
The workers were paid a flat rate of $25 an hour, which didn’t cover the overtime and penalty rates they were entitled to which was as much as $48.53 an hour.
Tempany also didn’t provide minimum shift pay and a laundry allowance, failed to reimburse travel expenses, and made unlawful deductions from wages to cover uniform bonds.
Individuals were underpaid between $404 to $3,517, with one first-aider not paid at all for 30 hours of work.
Workers speak out
A number of workers spoke to Fairfax Media about their experience working for Tempany’s company, including Michael Kempe.
He told Fairfax that he is owed more than $3,000 for work he did for the company in 2014 and 2105, receiving only part of what he should have been paid.
“It become more and more apparent that people were being exploited,” he said.
“He’s preying on healthcare students. It’s not an honest mistake, it’s a proven track record of the same behaviour.”
Registered emergency nurse Lisa Skinner told Fairfax that she was owed close to $1,000, which she had to recover on her own through the courts.
“I would text and email him and tell him that I really did need the money. He would say he was sorry he had been really busy and would fix it up,” she said.
“I gave him 18 months but then I contacted the Fair Work Ombudsman in January 2016.”
‘Flagrant disregard for the rights of employees’
Judge Alister McNab said Tempany displayed a disturbing “pattern of conduct”.
“It seems to be a well-practised methodology that the respondents have used with these employees and there is a flagrant disregard for the rights of those employees,” Judge McNab said.
The underpayments happened despite the Fair Work Ombudsman providing education to Tempany about his obligations under workplace laws on two previous occasions.
“Notwithstanding the efforts of the FWO to educate the respondents, it appears that there has been no satisfactory change to the mode by which this company operates in relation to the way it treats its employees,” Judge McNab said.
Impact of underpayments ‘significant’
“The impact of the underpayments on the employees were “significant”, even if the dollar amounts were not.
“The persons underpaid were generally students who were relying on the income to fund living expenses whilst studying. The underpayments represent a major percentage of the entitlements,” Judge McNab said.
In addition to the penalties, the Court also imposed orders for workers to be fully back-paid.
Investigations by Fairfax Media have revealed that Mr Tempany and Acute Health Pty Ltd are under investigation for offering “accredited and certified” training, despite not being a registered training organisation.
This means the validity of first aid certification provided to his clients, including teachers in Victorian schools are now in doubt.
Acute Health has provided medical first aid services at high-profile events, including Carols by Candlelight, Relay for Life, Mother’s Day Classic and the state motocross championships.
Australian Securities and Investments Commission documents reveal that Mr Tempany has now registered a new company called Acute Health Medical Group Pty Ltd.
Former staff believe Mr Tempany will attempt to continue to operate Acute Health via the new company, letting his current company crash under the weight of its penalty.
Industrial relations advocate Miles Heffernan from WAGETHEFT.net.au said he expected Tempany to continue operating under his new business name, and said the case is more evidence of the need for criminal penalties for blatant and deliberate wage theft.
“Clearly this bloke is going to let his old company go bust with such a hefty monetary penalty, and then he will start operating again using his newly registered business name, and he can go on ripping off workers while never paying his outstanding debts – it’s called phoenixing, and he shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it” Mr Heffernan said.
“Common low life thieves like Mr Tempany should face criminal penalties, including convictions and jail time – just like all other thieves do.
“Until governments get serious and start treating wage theft as a crime – which it what it is – then greedy employers like Mr Tempany will continue to rip off his workers with impunity.”
If you have not received your proper wages and entitlements, or are considering legal action to recover stolen wages, we can help.
Please call our specialist team at WAGETHEFT.net.au on
1300 1 THEFT (1300 184 338)
To connect with us, please follow us on: