In a recent decision by the Federal Magistrates Court, a Human Resources Manager of a company was ordered to pay a penalty for being knowingly involved in breaches of workplace laws by his employer.

In the case of Fair Work Ombudsman v Centennial Financial Services Pty Ltd & Ors a company was found to have breached various sections of the then Workplace Relations Act 1996 (repealed and eventually replaced by the Fair Work Act 2009).  The breaches included setting up sham arrangements and not paying statutory entitlements to employees.

The court proceedings named the sole director of the company as a defendant along with the Human Resources Manager who was not a director of the company.

The HR Manager submitted to the Court that he:“had merely been following the instructions of [the director] and had not had any input into the decisions which gave rise to the contraventions.”  He submitted that his position as the human resources manager was “a mere title” and that he had no authority beyond what was approved by the director

.”However, in considering all the facts, the Court held that the HR Manager had knowledge of the essential facts of the breaches by the company and was knowingly concerned in and participated in the breaches.”

In the second judgment, the Court noted that the events:

“had a chilling effect on his career in human resources and that he has seen a significant decline in his income which would tend to increase the impact on him of any financial penalties imposed in these proceedings.…..The total penalty is $3,750.  I am satisfied that these are just and appropriate amounts as aggregate figures.”

This decision by the Court is a reminder that Managers not just Directors of companies should ensure that the work they undertake complies with the relevant legislative requirements and they do not merely “follow instructions from the Company Directors”.