BLOG IMAGE Denise O'Reilly

Female Leader, Denise O’Reilly, Director O’Reilly Workplace Law

Denise O’Reilly left the world of corporate law and started her own practice as Director O’Reilly Workplace Law to build the lifestyle and career of her dreams. With a desire to pursue workplace law and also enjoy the benefits offered by living on the Gold Coast in Queensland, Denise now has a thriving practice. She has achieved this success on her terms, through providing excellent customer service, and has recently been awarded NAB 2018 Best Law Firm Queensland and NAB 2018 Best Law Firm Employment & IRawards judged solely on client feedback.

O’Reilly Workplace Law act for employers across all industries from construction to mining to IT, and with a particular expertise in Professional Services, Management Rights & Tourism, and Registered & Licensed Clubs. Having assisted organisations ranging from large corporates to growing small to medium enterprises with difficult workplace relations matters, Denise combines her corporate and legal expertise with a healthy dose of empathy as a business owner herself, and a brilliant sense of humour.

Why did you start your own legal practice?

Because I wanted to create a specialist environment where I could do the type of legal work (workplace law) that I love, with clients I enjoy helping, and in the location where I chose to live and raise my children (the Gold Coast).

Typically, where are the areas of greatest risk exposure for businesses with regard to employment law?

The areas we most regularly see businesses at risk include:

  • Dismissing employees (where employees can bring various termination related claims that can be costly and time consuming to defend).
  • Compliance with our ever changing IR system, including awards and the Fair Work Act, and
  • Workplace health and safety. Workplace health and safety contraventions can result in very large fines and even jail terms. New industrial manslaughter laws in Queensland have established maximum fines of $10M and 20 years jail, which is really significant.

Your Top 3 tips for small to medium businesses regarding employment arrangements that minimise risk to the business and maximise flexibility?

  1. Put in place simple, effective employment contracts that get you compliant with the applicable awards and protect your business’ IP and confidential information.
  2. Get advice before you dismiss an employee from their employment. That is the best time for people like us to help you minimise your risk.
  3. Know and understand the awards that apply to your business. Consider putting in place ‘award flexibility agreements’ to vary the operation of awards to suit your business and your employees’ needs. Including to provide for flexibility.

Tell us about the emerging future trends in employment law.

There is a very strong trend towards individuals involved in a business being personally sued as ‘accessories’ to a particular company’s contraventions of workplace laws. This includes, for example, directors but also includes employed managers, such as human resources managers, and operational managers who are ‘knowingly involved’ in a breach. Naming individuals as respondents to claims really increases the pressure on the employer to settle these claims early.

Labour hire legislation in various States in Australia have recently commenced, and the federal ALP have foreshadowed their intention to create a national labour hire licensing system federally if elected. This would require all labour hire employees to be employed under the same conditions as the direct employees next to whom they work, which would have a significant impact on the labour hire industry nationally.

Also, if the federal government changes at the next election, we expect a range of reforms to the system may occur. I suspect that industrial relations will be key election issue when we next go to the polls, so watch this space.

Your greatest challenge?

Juggling my commitment to my business and my family! I love both and need balance tending to the needs of both my small children, my clients, my staff and the business itself. It’s a juggle, but one I love and which keeps me on my toes!

What are you most proud of?

Two things – one establishing and growing my business whilst having a very young family, two recently being awarded Best Law Firm QLD and also Best Law Firm Employment & Industrial Relations in the 2018 NAB Firmchecker Professional Services Awards. Most importantly, because these awards are judged purely on client feedback. It’s a team effort and I am so proud of my team for us winning these two awards.

Advice for future female leaders?

If you love it, step into your career. Having a family doesn’t need to prevent you developing your career and contributing to both your own professional growth and those persons or companies that you work with. And to quote Sia (Flames), ‘one foot in front of the other babe’!


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Posted by Jade Collins - Femeconomy Director

Jade Collins has 20 years’ global experience in corporate executive Human Resources and management consulting roles in the Mining, Energy and Aerospace industries, leading large scale, complex multi-million-dollar change management programs. Jade finds the combination of her HR, Psychology and MBA qualifications and her leadership experience is invaluable for increasing gender equality in leadership across industries. Jade was a member of the Queensland Government's Strategic Advisory Group for the Toward Gender Parity: Women on Boards Initiative and the 2019 CQU Alumni of the Year for Social Impact for her work with Femeconomy.