Employment Law

The employment law team at Carson McDowell is widely recognised as one of the leading employment teams in Northern Ireland. Given the backgrounds of its two partners, Orlagh O’Neill and Rachel Penny, Carson McDowell is one of the only firms in Northern Ireland that can claim genuine expertise in the entire spectrum of employment law. Our clients, who span the private, public and voluntary sectors, tell us they value the quality and speed of our technical advice and our ability to provide strategic solutions which balance legal and commercial issues. Above all, they value the importance we place on investing time in getting to know our client’s business and building on personal relationships.

Orlagh has unrivalled expertise in Northern Ireland in terms of contentious employment law matters, and Rachel is an acknowledged expert in matters such as TUPE, large scale redundancy/re-organisation programmes. The team is best known for its impressive and ever expanding client list, its commercial and pragmatic lawyers and its ability to offer specialist contentious, non-contentious/advisory and ‘corporate’ employment law. Unsurprisingly, the employment team is ranked tier 1 in the Legal 500 2018 and band 1 in the Chambers Guide to the UK Profession 2019.

What we do:

  • Drafting and advising on all aspects of the employment contract and associated employment policies including staff handbooks
  • Employment litigation, spanning the defence and representation of employers at Industrial and Fair Employment Tribunals, as well as dealing with High Court breach of contract claims and injunctions
  • Employment aspects of corporate restructuring, outsourcing and mergers
  • Equality and fair employment advice, ranging from compliance with Northern Ireland’s unique equality legislation to defending equality claims
  • Advising on the handling of grievance and other workplace investigations
  • Industrial relations and trade union matters
  • Performance- advising on performance, managing absence and misconduct
  • Restrictive covenants and team moves
  • Redundancy, reorganisations and changes to terms and conditions of employment
  • Handling senior executive terminations, including drafting and negotiating compromise agreements
  • TUPE
  • Whistleblowing
  • Advising on data protection, in particular the impact of GDPR on the employment relationship, employment records and employee monitoring
  • Bespoke training, seminars and workshops on a wide range of employment issues

What Others Say About Us

Chambers UK 2021

What the team is known for

Market-leading employment team that provides a full and commercial service to an impressive clientele. Renowned for the strength of both its contentious and non-contentious work. Acts for regional and multinational clients from a range of sectors, including manufacturing, retail and travel. Recent activity has included advising on discrimination and whistle-blowing claims.


A client reports: "I find them knowledgeable, pragmatic, business-focused, diligent, responsive, down-to-earth, realistic and very courteous."

Another says: "They are dedicated and fully engaged in our business."

Sources praise the team for being "professional, knowledgeable and efficient."

Work highlights

Assisted Royal Mail with successfully defending a claim in the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal.

Notable practitioners

Orlagh O'Neill

Rachel Penny

The Legal 500 2021

Carson McDowell handles the full spectrum of employment work and is instructed by heavily unionised and quasi-public entities including Ulster University, Translink and Royal Mail. The "very personable, efficient and hardworking" Orlagh O’Neill leads the team and is particularly strong at handling grievance and whistleblowing investigations. Rachel Penny, who is an expert in TUPE regulations and restructuring mandates, is also a key name to note.


Clients praise the team for their "strength and depth across a wide range of legal topics, allowing quick responses whatever the issue."

Another source added: "I have complete confidence in them as a team that they are providing our business with the expert advice that we need to ensure we remain complaint and reduce our risks of facing complex legal challenge."

Key clients

  • Ulster University
  • Londonderry Port & Harbour Commissioners (Foyle Port)
  • Royal Mail Group Limited
  • Grand Opera House Trust
  • Concentrix CVG Intelligent Contact Limited
  • Translink
  • Hampton Conservatories Limited
  • Xilinx, Inc.
  • Association of Optometrists
  • British Medical Association