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 and Partners UK 2020

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 seen the team advise clients on discrimination and whistle-blowing claims.


"Carson McDowell is a top firm," says a client, explaining: "Its lawyers are knowledgeable, helpful, confident in their abilities and discreet, yet keen to engage."

Market sources describe the firm as "a leading commercial firm for employment" with "excellent lawyers."

Work highlights

Advised Prestige Insurance Holdings on the employment aspects of the sale of a majority shareholding in the company to Capital Z Partners Management.

Notable practitioners

Orlagh O'Neill is regularly called upon to advise clients on a range of contentious employment matters, including discrimination and whistle-blowing claims. "I can't praise her enough," remarks a client, explaining: "Her understanding on complexities of cases is second to none, and she is extremely thoughtful and reflective in her advice."

Rachel Penny has a strong employment practice encompassing contentious and non-contentious matters. She advises on senior executive dismissals, redundancies and discrimination claims. An interviewee comments: "She's very professional, approachable and pragmatic. She will advise you and be clear if she thinks there's a problem with your approach."

The Legal 500 2020

What the team is known for

Carson McDowell's 'excellent' team is noted for its 'knowledge and availability'. It acts for leading local, UK-wide and Republic of Ireland companies, advising on a wide range of contentious employment matters, as well as non-contentious and corporate employment law.

Work highlights

Advising the shareholders of Prestige Insurance Holdings Limited (which owns Northern Ireland’s leading insurance broker, Abbey) on the employment aspects of the sale of a majority shareholding in the company to Capital Z Partners Management, LLC.

Advising SHS Group Limited on the employment-related aspects of the acquisition of 3V Natural Foods Limited.

Assisting Royal Mail with a wide range of advice on employment, discrimination and equality matters and defending the client against claims in the Industrial and Fair Employment Tribunals.

Advising Translink on employment law matters such as grievances and disciplinaries and defending the client against tribunal claims.

Advising Ulster University on immediate employment issues such as performance management and appraisal, equal opportunity procedures, harassment, bullying, disability discrimination and termination of employment procedures, as well as representing the client in tribunal claims.

Notable practitioners

'Outstanding' practice head Orlagh O'Neill specialises in contentious employment, with particular expertise in grievance and whistleblowing investigations, while Rachel Penny's areas of strength include TUPE and restructuring matters.

Significant Clients

Royal Mail Group, Translink, Belfast Harbour Commissioners, Santander UK Plc, Statsport Group Limited.