Top Aussie Law Firm Facing Stiff Fines for Unsafe Working Conditions

Source: 123RF/25632434s

Colin Fluxman Reports from Melbourne, Australia

A leading law firm based in Melbourne with offices worldwide is facing heavy fines in breach of the Australian Occupational Health and Safety Act for overworking lawyers and staff to meet punishing royal commission deadlines.

According to a report in the Australian Financial Review, a source said KWM law firm graduates were subjected to grueling conditions with some employees choosing to sleep at the firm’s Melbourne office rather than return home. Day and night shifts were allocated so work could continue around the clock.

The unprecedented investigation, formally classified as an “inquiry” by WorkSafe, Australia’s equivalent of OSHA, comes as there is an increasing discussion around the mental health of lawyers in high-pressure environments.

KWM chief executive partner, Berkeley Cox, said the firm has taken deliberate steps to manage the heavy demands on employees. These included allocating other resources from other parts of the firm, appointing additional permanent staff, work rosters, and using a casual workforce.

Cox added, “we are taking this incredibly seriously – the well-being of our staff is paramount.”

A WorkSafe spokesman said in response to questions from the Review, that “WorkSafe has been made aware of alleged health and safety issues and is making inquiries.”

If KWM is found to be in breach of the act, WorkSafe can seek a maximum of A$285,426 (US$203,282) for individuals, including partners, or issue enforceable undertakings.