Reality TV contestant faces court over alleged unpaid internship, underpayments

The Fair Work Ombudsman stated that a fashion industry start-up that appeared on the reality show 'Shark Tank' is facing Court for allegedly running an unlawful unpaid internship program and underpaying three workers more than $40,000.

The Ombudsman has commenced legal action in the Federal Circuit Court against Her Fashion Box Pty Ltd and its sole director and majority shareholder, Kathleen Enyd Purkis.

Her Fashion Box, based in Sydney, sells online subscribers 'fashion boxes' containing fashion accessories and beauty products.

The Fair Work Ombudsman alleges the company underpaid three employees a total of $40,543 for various periods of work between 2013 and 2015.

It is alleged the three employees, aged in their mid-20s, were variously underpaid their minimum hourly rates, overtime, public holiday pay and annual leave entitlements.

One employee, a graphic designer who had completed a university degree, allegedly worked two-days per week for almost six months without pay under a purported 'unpaid internship' before receiving a one-off payment of just $1000. She was allegedly underpaid $6913.

The Fair Work Ombudsman alleges she was in fact engaged as an employee and performing productive work, and therefore entitled to be paid minimum Award rates and entitlements.

Another graphic designer engaged by Her Fashion Box was allegedly underpaid a total of $15,511 over a period of two years of full-time work as a result of underpayment of his minimum Award entitlements.

The third employee, engaged on a full-time basis as a brand partnerships manager, was allegedly underpaid a total of $18,119 over a 12-month period.

The Ombudsman also alleged that Her Fashion Box further contravened the law by failing to comply with four Notices to Produce documents or records issued by Fair Work inspectors.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said legal action has been commenced because of the lack of co-operation with inspectors and the significant amounts involved for young employees.

Her Fashion Box faces maximum penalties of up to $51,000 per contravention and Ms Purkis faces penalties of up to $10,200 per contravention.

The Fair Work Ombudsman is also seeking court orders requiring the company and Ms Purkis to back-pay the employees in full. They have been only partially back-paid to date.

An injunction restraining Her Fashion Box and Ms Purkis from underpaying workers in future is also being sought. If the injunction is granted, the company and Ms Purkis could face contempt of court proceedings for any further underpayment contraventions proven in court.

A directions hearing took place in the Federal Circuit Court in Sydney on 31 May 2017.

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