7-Eleven franchisee in court over alleged cash back scam

A 7-Eleven Franchisee in Brisbane is facing court for allegedly dismissing a worker by removing him from the roster after he refused his employer’s request to repay an amount he had been paid.

Balaji Australia Pty Ltd and current director and shareholder Madhav Ponnada will also face the Federal Circuit Court on allegations that false and misleading records were created during the employment of two employees and were later provided to Fair Work Inspectors during the course of their investigation.

It is alleged that the worker, an Indian national, was first employed in February 2015 as a casual and then engaged as a part-time employee between December 2015 and July 2016. During this time he accrued annual leave entitlements equivalent to $731.06.

In July 2016 it is alleged the worker was then transferred to a casual employment relationship and was paid $731.06 in accrued annual leave and leave loading from the preceding period in which he was engaged on a part-time basis.

The Fair Work Ombudsman alleges that Mr Ponnada, on behalf of the company, then made multiple requests for the worker to return the $731.06 that had been paid.

It is further alleged that the day after the worker refused to repay this money, Mr Ponnada instructed a store manager to remove the employee from a rostered shift and advised the store manager that the employee no longer worked at the store.

The matter is listed for a directions hearing on 30 October 2017.

This is the tenth matter filed by the Fair Work Ombudsman involving a 7-Eleven franchisee with more than $1 million in penalties ordered in cases to date.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James says requiring workers to repay portions of their wages is an insidious practice.

“We are concerned that so called ‘cash-back’ schemes are being utilised to disguise the underpayment of some of the most vulnerable workers in our community,” James said.

“This is the type of behaviour that warrants serious enforcement action, such as litigation through the Courts.”

The Fair Work Ombudsman is asking the Federal Circuit Court to impose penalties against Mr Ponnada and his company for several alleged contraventions of workplace laws as well as seeking compensation for the worker who was allegedly dismissed.

“Workers cannot be deprived of work for exercising their rights, regardless of whether they are engaged on a casual, part-time or full-time basis,” James said.

“We encourage anyone with information on alleged ‘cash-back’ schemes to come forward and assist us in our investigations.”

In December, the Fair Work Ombudsman and 7-Eleven signed a Proactive Compliance Deed. The deed requires 7-Eleven to overhaul its systems and implement fully biometric time recording to prevent the falsification of records. The alleged record-keeping contraventions in this litigation occurred prior to the signing of this deed.

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