A Sydney café operator has been penalised more than $97,000 in the Federal Circuit Court after requiring an overseas worker to pay back thousands of dollars of her wages as part of a cashback scheme.

Tibor Vertes, who runs the Bar Coluzzi @ Victoria St licensed café in the inner suburb of Darlinghurst, was penalised $9,720 and his company Robit Nominees Pty Ltd has been penalised a further $87,345. The affected worker is an Italian cook who was sponsored by Robit Nominees to work at the café.

The worker’s contract stated that she would work 40 hours a week and be paid an annual wage of $56,000. However, the worker actually worked 54 hours each week and Robit Nominees unlawfully required her to pay back a total of $13,952 of her wages over a 15-month period from August 2014 until she resigned in November 2015.

After being paid each week, Robit Nominees required the worker to pay back $218 of her wages in cash to Vertes. Vertes told the worker that his company could not afford to pay her whole salary and required the cashback payments to cover tax and superannuation contributions.

In court, Vertes and his company admitted contravening workplace laws and have back-paid the worker in full.

The Australian Fair Work Ombudsman had had previous dealings with Vertes, a qualified lawyer, when he was general counsel and director of a company regarding an alleged failure to pay an employee’s entitlement on termination.

“Mr Vertes was an experienced business person and an admitted legal practitioner, it is inconceivable Mr Vertes was unaware of the legal obligations of Robit Nominees as employer to [the worker],” the judge said.