ACCC appeals $1 million penalty in Employsure Google ads case

17 January 2022

The ACCC has filed an appeal against the $1 million penalty ordered by the Federal Court against Employsure for making misleading representations that it was, or was affiliated with, a government agency, in Google ads published between August 2016 and August 2018. 

Employsure published six misleading Google ads which appeared in response to searches for terms like ‘fair work ombudsman’, ‘fair work commission’ and similar terms and featured headlines like ‘Fair Work Ombudsman Help – Free 24/7 Employer Advice’.

“We were concerned Employsure’s Google ads potentially misled thousands of Australian businesses over a two-year period into contacting Employsure, thinking they were dealing with a government agency, or one affiliated with the government,” ACCC Deputy Chair Mick Keogh said.

“Any attempt to misrepresent a business as being part of the government is a serious breach of trust, and of our consumer laws.”

The ACCC had sought a penalty of $5 million, and is appealing from the penalty judgment on the basis that the $1 million penalty ordered is manifestly inadequate.

“We believe a higher penalty is necessary and appropriate having regard to the nature of the conduct and size of Employsure, to ensure that internet advertisers are sufficiently deterred from misleading consumers about who they are dealing with,” Mr Keogh said.

A hearing for the appeal before the Full Federal Court will be fixed at a later date.

Background

Employsure is a large, private company with offices in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth that offers employment relations and workplace health and safety advisory services to business owners. In the 2021 financial year it had more than 23,500 clients. It has no affiliation with any government agency. 

The ACCC instituted proceedings against Employsure in December 2018, alleging Employsure misled consumers that it was, or was affiliated with, a government agency, through its Google Ads published on Google search results pages.

In October 2020, the Federal Court dismissed the ACCC’s case.

The Full Federal Court upheld the ACCC’s appeal unanimously in August 2021.

An example of the Google Ads run by Employsure:

An example of the Google Ads run by Employsure

Release number: 
5/22
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