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SafeWork NSW ‘making enquiries’ into Corrs

Allegations of psychosocial hazards at BigLaw firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth have prompted enquiries from the workplace regulator in New South Wales.

user iconJerome Doraisamy 24 May 2024 Big Law
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As first reported last night (Thursday 23 May) by the Financial Review, the workplace regulator in Australia’s most populous state, SafeWork NSW, is exploring allegations of psychosocial hazards at Corrs Chambers Westgarth.

A spokesperson for SafeWork NSW confirmed with Lawyers Weekly that it is “making enquiries” into allegations of such hazards at the national law firm, noting that the enquiries are “ongoing”.

The regulator’s spokesperson added it would not be making further comment at this time.


In a statement provided to Lawyers Weekly, a Corrs spokesperson said that the firm met with a representative from the workplace regulator last Thursday, at which SafeWork indicated it is “currently not investigating or proposing to investigate the complaint or any specific conduct or behaviour at the firm”.

“SafeWork advised that, as part of their role to monitor compliance with WHS legislation, they would be requesting a copy of Corrs’ policies and procedures relating to management of workplace risks,” the firm spokesperson said.

Corrs has comprehensive policies and procedures related to these issues, the statement went on.

“We are liaising with SafeWork to provide them with copies of our relevant policies and procedures. SafeWork has not raised any issues about general working conditions at Corrs and has not had an opportunity as yet to complete a review of our policies and procedures,” the spokesperson continued.

“The firm is not aware of the detail of the complaint, however we are aware that redacted correspondence between the complainant and SafeWork was posted on social media prior to the firm’s first meeting with the regulator.”

Three months ago, the BigLaw firm reappointed Gavin McClaren as its chief executive and senior partner until 2033.

Earlier this week, a new plan was unveiled by the state government in NSW to help employers better manage psychosocial risks and protect their workers from psychological harms.

The SafeWork NSW Psychological Health and Safety Strategy 2024-2026 is backed by $5.6 million, over the next two years, for the regulator to support employers to manage risks and comply with their duty to prevent psychological harm in NSW workplaces, including via the delivery of mental health programs for small and medium businesses, through the Black Dog Institute and Transitioning Well.

Another initiative being backed by the new strategy is the bolstering of SafeWork NSW’s “inspectorate and conduct compliance visits in high-risk workplaces”.

In a statement, SafeWork NSW acting deputy secretary Trent Curtin said that large businesses and government agencies at high-risk of psychological injuries “can expect compliance checks” from the state’s workplace regulator.

“SafeWork NSW will issue improvement notices, prohibition notices or formal regulator warnings and may prosecute workplaces who repeatedly do not comply or where they have seriously breached WHS laws,” Curtin warned.

“In addition to being an obligation under Work Health and Safety regulations, a psychologically healthy and safe workplace helps reduce business costs. These include costs associated with absenteeism and presenteeism, where staff are away from work and where staff are attending work under stress or experiencing mental health issues. Presenteeism is estimated to have an annual cost of $1,680 per employee.”

Corrs is not the only legal workplace in Australia to face enquiries from a workplace regulator across the country in recent years.

Late last year, WorkSafe Victoria secured a conviction and fine of just under $380,000 against Court Services Victoria, following numerous complaints about the workplace in the state’s Coroners Court.

In October 2018, global firm King & Wood Mallesons received an Improvement Notice from WorkSafe Victoria, “in relation to the management of employee fatigue in high pressure situations”, and national player Gilbert + Tobin received notice from SafeWork NSW of “apparent work, health and safety issues”. The firm's chair, Danny Gilbert, who was managing partner at the time, spoke to Lawyers Weekly about how the firm was responding to the notice, stressing the importance of empowering staff members to speak up.

At the time of the announcement of the enquiries into KWM, then-managing partner in Australia of global rival Clyde & Co Michael Tooma told Lawyers Weekly that the enquiries would be the “death knell” for the billable hour, reflecting that it was the “beginning of the end” for such measurement of a lawyer’s time and work. Also in late 2018, not-for-profit organisation Minds Count (for which the editor of this brand is now a non-executive director) called the attention on KWM by WorkSafe a “watershed” moment.