How to tell if you are being underpaid by your employer

Many workers have blind trust that their employer will do the math correctly and their pay will be in order each month.

For almost 6000 Woolworths employees in Australia, however, that wasn't the case.

The company recently admitted it had underpaid almost 6000 staff by as much as AU$300 million (NZ$323 million) over nine years.

And apparently the supermarket giant wasn't the only company that has bungled payments to staff - Australia's Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said there was a "disturbing number" of other large companies in Australia that had underpaid workers.

"This is simply not good enough," Parker said.

Although Woolworths New Zealand has confirmed to Newshub no workers here were impacted by the botch-up, it is possible staff at other companies are being short-changed. 

Dr William Hodge, a law employment expert at the University of Auckland, says workers can be left out of pocket both deliberately and accidentally by employers.

One tell-tale sign your boss might be deliberately taking advantage of you, says Dr Hodge, is if you don't get a regular pay slip.

The onus is on the employer to keep wage and time records, he says, and all that information must be made available to employees if they ask for it.

"If something's gone wrong, it will come out at that point," says Dr Hodge.

No arbitrary deductions for things like transport or accommodation can be from your salary unless they are "overtly described" in the contract.

Dr Hodge says he believes he is seeing more cases of companies being investigated for wrongdoing, though it is hard to say if that's because more employers are taking advantage of workers or whether authorities and employees are becoming more vigilant.

"I think there is more of it," says Dr Hodge. "But it is a combination of more prosecutors, workers being more aware of their rights and inspectors being able to devote more resources to it - all of the above."

Dr Hodge says the most at-risk industries are hospitality, agriculture and labour services.

When it comes to accidental causes, Dr Hodge says most mistakes come down to companies not fully understanding the Holidays Act.

The act is so confusing, in fact, that the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) even got it wrong, revealing in 2016 it had miscalculated holiday pay for thousands of its own staff.

Th police also mucked it up, having to fork out $30 million after underpaying staff for the same reason. Auckland Council and the Department of Corrections also on the list of those that have got it wrong.

Dr Hodge says the biggest issue with the Holidays Act is that it was made for an era when everyone worked Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. But with more people working irregular hours, the act no longer works like it should.

"The old statute is almost impossible to apply to new working patterns," he says.

How to check if you're being paid right

Employment New Zealand has information on its website for how to calculate annual holiday pay rates while there are other tools online to help you work out how much money you should be bringing home after paying taxes and making contributions to KiwiSaver and student loan repayments.

Anyone who thinks they haven't been paid what they are owed should first talk to their employer, or past employer. If they still think something is off they can contact the Employment Relations Authority.