New app, heavier penalties reinforce record-keeping as core business

As workers get an innovative new tool to record their hours, it is time for businesses to take record-keeping as seriously as the courts and government, writes Natalie James

It’s time for business to get serious when it comes to keeping records on the hours and wages of their staff.

This is an important issue. The courts have shown this by penalising companies who fail to meet their legal record-keeping obligations and the Government has shown how seriously it takes this matter by putting forward legislation which would see increased penalties for those who continue to flout the law.  

And now, an innovative new app will allow employees to easily maintain their own diary of work hours that can be used as a back-up resource should any concerns regarding underpayment arise.

Of course, we know the majority of business owners do the right thing and when mistakes occur, many are genuine oversights and are rectified quickly without issue.

However we still see far too many examples of records that are either deliberately misleading or so sub-standard that it’s not even possible to conduct an audit and determine whether employees are being paid their correct entitlements.

In 2015/16 nearly half (48%) of the cases we filed in court included alleged record-keeping contraventions.

This trend has continued in the current financial year with record-keeping allegations present in two thirds of all court proceedings initiated by the Agency in the six months from 1 July to 31 December.

In this same period, employers in these types of cases were hit with a combined $1.8 million in penalties.

In one case, involving a 7-Eleven operator, the employer issued payslips that overstated the rate actually paid to workers, delivering incorrect information to 7-Eleven payroll as well as repeatedly providing false records to my Agency. After full admissions were eventually made, total penalties of more than $400,000 were ordered against the operating company and director.

In another case that is currently before the courts, we allege that the records kept by a labour-hire company were so poor that our inspectors could only complete audits for five of the 265 mostly migrant staff engaged by the firm.

This is where our new Record My Hours smartphone app can make a real difference.

Using geofencing technology, the Record My Hours app will automatically and accurately record when an employee is at their workplace, becoming a helpful tool which will be closely considered by my Fair Work inspectors should there be a dispute between a business and an employee on hours worked.

Employees are able to manually edit their hours and add or delete shifts and any timesheets exported by the app will differentiate between estimated shifts and those that are manually entered.

For years we have encouraged employees to keep a diary of their hours. This app is not a new principle; it’s a useful tool to make this process a lot easier and more user-friendly.

Importantly, employers can benefit from the app too.

We understand that many small businesses simply do not have the resources to implement fancy automated systems that record when an employee starts and finishes their shift.

We also understand that in many industries, such as hospitality, shifts can be irregular and employees finish up when the customer flow begins to reduce, rather than at a set time.

In these instances it’s common for start times and knock-offs to be recorded in hastily scribbled hand-written notes.

In these scenarios, the hours logged by employees who  use the Record My Hours App could complement the records kept on location at the business. Employers who receive the data from their workers’ app can deal with any discrepancies early, preventing disputes from surfacing and in turn preventing a visit from our inspectors.

On top of this, the app also allows rosters and work related reminders to be imported to an employee’s phone.

If a dispute should arise, metadata in the app will make it clear when records have been manually edited and we will interrogate the data and the employer’s own records. My Agency will only have access to an employee’s data if they choose to share it with the Fair Work Ombudsman.

While the app is squarely aimed at young people who are ‘digital natives’ and avid users of smart phones, we believe it also has a big role to play in stamping out exploitation of migrant workers and will act as a handy tool for businesses that engage these cohorts.

At the moment, the app is available in 12 languages and we have plans to add additional languages with future updates.

So now there really is no excuse. The days of business getting off lightly when it comes to serious record-keeping breaches are over.

The courts and the Government have shown how seriously they take these breaches and the message for businesses is clear – keeping accurate payment records for your employees is just as important as keeping your tax records.

Encouraging your workforce to download and use this app will cost you nothing, but could end up saving both employees and employers hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.

Natalie James is the Fair Work Ombudsman.

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  1. Slim Jim

    Great Nat (just being ‘mod’ here),

    Maybe these ‘young people who are ‘digital natives’ and avid users of smart phones’ will make the reciprocal effort of turning up ‘ready for work’ at least 5 minutes before their shift commences?

    Or will this detrimentally impact their already busy, digital lives?

    • Andrew

      If they’re being paid for that five minutes, sure. If not, that’s illegal.

      • Slim Jim

        Hi Andrew,

        This is not about whether it is legal or illegal, or that an employee should be paid if they are on work premises 5 minutes before their shift starts; putting away their bag in a provided secure locker, lunch in a provided clean fridge, making and drinking a provided free tea or coffee or whatever, chatting to their workmates and then putting their damn mobile phone on silent mode.

        Turning up early (not 30 minutes, but at least 5 minutes before) used to a COURTESY.

        This is the issue.

        • Andrew

          Courtesy don’t pay the bills, Jim. Want to come wash my car, as a courtesy? Didn’t think so.

          There’s no such thing as free work. It’s illegal (and probably an insurance risk too – you should look in to that).

          • Slim Jim

            When staff turn up on the work premises at 5 minutes before the start of their SCHEDULED SHIFT, they are not doing work, paid, unpaid, free or otherwise!
            Is that too hard for you to understand? Would a diagram assist?

            They are getting ready to commence work by getting all their personal “stuff” out of the way, so that when they start their shift, on time, they are ready for work.

            So by your reasoning and logic of worker wage entitlement, an employee rostered to commence a shift at 8:00am is meant to turn up exactly at 8:00am – no earlier, no later? No excuses?

            And as for courtesy, you sound too young (or self-absorbed?) to understand what this institutes. The servitude of courtesy, along with honesty, loyalty and reliability means that most of my senior staff have been with me for periods ranging from a minimum of 10 and up to 26 years, while many of my customers are now almost third generational.

            Thank you for (the free?) advice on the “illegality” of turning up at work – NOT TO START WORK FOR FREE – at least 5 minutes before shift start. My legal advice has been that this is not illegal, as long as NO ONE IS EXPECTED TO WORK OR IS WORKING WITHOUT RENUMERATION – which I can assure you, they are not.

            It is also not an insurance risk either, as a “worker” is covered by WorkCover from the time they leave their “usual residential premises” and arrive at their work destination “by the usual route”.

            I suppose these things must be be some what different in the parallel car-washing universe you seem to inhabit.

            And I am sorry, but I am unable to wash your car as a courtesy – I have five (or is it six?) of my own and find it easier to use a $25 laser car wash service monthly.
            I really do recommend this the best option to your dilemma.

          • Andrew

            First point – from the Govt business website.

            “You must pay your employees for all the time they are required to work.”


            Your definition and your employees definition of “work” may differ, but if this ended up at a hearing you’d struggle to argue that your requiring of the employee at the premises to “set up and prepare” is not in fact work.

            5 minutes x 5 days = 25 minutes a week.
            Round that up to an hour a fortnight, over a year. For a lowly paid Grade 1 or 2 pharmacy assistant that’s a lot of money and makes a big difference in a household budget.

            Look, if you pay your staff from the moment they arrive to the moment they leave, then I unreservedly apologise for the misunderstanding on my part.

  2. Expat In Blighty

    So, without prematurely taking a side, how about the following scenario?

    Work requires a uniform & the appropriate storage of any personal belongings.
    It is the option of the employee if they arrive to work in uniform without much personal belongings…or they can arrive and get changed & get ready to commence work at X O’clock (which taks time depending on readiness of employee). My experience is that a “get to work 5 min before hand” is required for a person to be ready in time to start their shift. (one current employee there consistently 10 minutes before I arrive with keys no matter what I suggest…the other 6 average 5-10 minutes late but will stay behind without asking due to inate fairness/decency.

    Having several employees over the years with wildly varying punctuality, it is in most cases a give & take scenario & an exercise in common sense. Late due to trafic or train dramas? Stay a bit later next time you’re needed. Need to go early for family reasons? Sure, no problem but likewise appreciate your help when down staff due to similar reasons.

    Personally, I see this app as a good check on dodgy corporates who’s business model is increasingly built on staff doing extra unpaid work (sadly common in UK).

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