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Aussie business cops $1 million fine for false Google ads after 100 complaints

·2-min read
The Federal Court has come to a decision about Employsure's advertisements. (Sources: Getty)
The Federal Court has come to a decision about Employsure's advertisements. (Sources: Getty)

Employsure, a workplace relations specialist, published Google advertisements with headlines including: ‘Fair Work Ombudsman Help – Free 24/7 Employer Advice’ and ‘Fair Work Commission Advice – Free Employer Advice’.

However, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) claimed the headlines implied Employsure was affiliated with, or was itself, a government agency when in fact it is a private company.

The ACCC received around 100 complaints about the advertisements.

An example of the advertisements Employsure used. (Source: ACCC)
An example of the advertisements Employsure used. (Source: ACCC)

The consumer watchdog commenced proceedings against Employsure in December 2018, calling for $5 million in penalties, but the Federal Court dismissed the case in 2020. The court found that the words ‘ad’ made it clear that the business was not associated with government agencies.

However, the Full Federal Court in August 2021 upheld an appeal by the ACCC, finding it had made misleading representations.

The court imposed the smaller penalty of $1 million as it agreed with the 2020 finding the conduct had not been deliberate, and that consumers would be aware that they were not dealing with a government agency by the time they completed the sign-up process.

“We consider that misrepresenting a business as being part of, or affiliated with, the government is a particularly serious breach of our consumer law, and publication of the Google Ads, including over a prolonged period of time, points to a significant compliance failure,” ACCC chair Rod Sims said.

“The ACCC was particularly concerned that consumers may have entered into contracts with Employsure for a significant fee because they believed the advertised services were to be provided by the official government authority, or a government affiliate, but this was not accepted by the Court in determining the penalty,” he added.

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