The owner of a Melbourne fertility clinic has been accused of withholding thousands of dollars in government-funded parental leave payments from one of its staff

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Natalie Kringoudis sitting in a cane chair and smiling at the camera.

The owner of a Melbourne fertility clinic has been accused of withholding thousands of dollars in government-funded parental leave payments from one of its staff and has been temporarily banned from practicing.

Key points:

  • The ombudsman alleges Natalie Jade Kringoudis also underpaid the employee by more than $10,000 in annual leave and other entitlements
  • The Pagoda Tree made all outstanding payments by September 2020, following the ombudsman’s investigation
  • The Health Complaints Commissioner has temporarily banned Ms Kringoudis from practising some health services

The Fair Work Ombudsman is taking legal action against Natalie Jade Kringoudis, the sole-director and owner of the Pagoda Tree (Vic) Pty Ltd, which operates The Pagoda Tree clinic in Albert Park.

The affected worker was employed as a Chinese medicine practitioner at the clinic when she took parental leave in 2018, the ombudsman said.

The ombudsman alleges Ms Kringoudis withheld more than half of the $12,948 owed in parental leave payments, and underpaid the employee by more than $10,000 in annual leave and other entitlements.

The Pagoda Tree promotes itself as a boutique natural fertility clinic, offering fertility and pregnancy treatments using traditional Chinese medicine, including acupuncture.

Ms Kringoudis, a published author and self-proclaimed “fertility expert”, has also been banned from practicing temporarily while under investigation by the Health Complaints Commissioner, which has issued an interim prohibition order.

“It is necessary to make this order to avoid a serious risk to the health, safety or welfare of the public,” the order states.

A yellow sign for The Pagoda Tree behind a window.

The Pagoda Tree employee who was allegedly underpaid was employed as a Chinese medicine practitioner.(ABC News)

Under the order, Ms Kringoudis is prevented from advertising, offering or providing any health services which involve Chinese Medicine, acupuncture, or the treatment of mental health disorders or emotional disorders.

According to its website, The Pagoda Tree is open for acupuncture, natural fertility, traditional Chinese Medicine and Women’s Health services.

“You will receive a post treatment letter, where we will outline specific diet and lifestyle advice to ensure you can start to support your own unique self outside of our four walls,” its website reads.

“Because it takes two to make a baby, we offer an initial couples consultation where we will sit and discuss both you and your partner’s health and health goals and form a treatment plan for you both.”

Second legal action of its kind in Australia

It’s only the second time the ombudsman has taken legal action against an employer for allegedly failing to pay paid parental leave entitlements to an employee.

In 2018, New South Wales man Kulpreet Singh and his company were fined more than $118,000 after falsely claiming he paid parental leave entitlements to an employee’s husband.

Ombudsman Sandra Parker said it was important to protect the integrity of Government-funded schemes designed to support parents.

“Paid Parental Leave funds are for the direct benefit of parents, not employers, and we will act to ensure they are passed on in full as the law requires,” Ms Parker said.

“All employee pay entitlements must be respected, and we will continue to take legal action in response to significant alleged contraventions.

“Workers with concerns should contact us.”

Natalie Kringoudis wearing a bright orange dress and smiling.

Natalie Kringoudis has also been temporarily banned from practising some health services.(Facebook)

All outstanding payments were repaid by The Pagoda Tree by September 2020, the ombudsman said, following its investigation.

The company faces up to $63,000 in penalties per contravention, while Ms Kringoudis faces up to $12,600 in penalties per contravention.

A directions hearing is listed in the Federal Circuit Court in Melbourne for February 2021.

Ms Kringoudis has been contacted for comment.

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