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The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) has announced a new anonymous tip-off service aimed at encouraging the general public to report businesses that they suspect are doing the wrong thing by employees.
The service is intended to provide a comfortable way for employees to report workplace issues without opening themselves up to repercussions from their employers. It also provides other parties with the opportunity to report non-compliant businesses in circumstances where they don’t wish to be identified or don’t want to get directly involved.
The FWO has highlighted the information gathering function of the service, saying that it will use anonymous reports to identify trends and patterns in an effort to zone in on compliance areas to “follow up”.
However, the full scope of the service is yet to be fully understood and the FWO has flagged that it expects the service to evolve over time.
FWO Natalie James has said the agency will not “be storming into a business on the basis of one anonymous tip off”, but what remains unclear is whether multiple tip-offs will result in any kind of FWO action. Each report must clearly identify the business it relates to, yet the FWO has said that it will not treat anonymous reports like requests for assistance or provide any response to tippers. Furthermore, the FWO website says that anonymous reports will be used to plan current and future education and enforcement activities. So whilst gathering information is clearly one of the service’s main functions, whether reports will result in an FWO inquiry is less clear.
One concern is the likelihood of anonymous reports being made based on misunderstandings. The workplace relations system in Australia is complex and it’s easy for employees or third parties to misunderstand their entitlements or to misinterpret a situation. How will the FWO deal with mistaken complaints or worse, ‘witch hunts’ by disgruntled employees (or groups of them)?
Ultimately, the service shouldn’t be necessary if employers are doing the right thing and as Ms James has pointed out, most businesses are trying to do the right thing. In light of this, we would hope that the tip-off service should be used for nothing other than information gathering to help develop compliance and education programs.
We will be watching this space as the service evolves.
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