Sarah Townsend


I am a specialist employment and health and safety lawyer with 20 years’ experience working in employment law. Having worked both in-house and in private practice, I truly understand the clients’ needs and priorities. I advise employers and senior executives from a wide range of industries, including the education, health, agri-business, construction and insurance sectors. I enjoy working collaboratively with clients to provide solutions-focused advice.

My expertise covers all aspects of employment law, from disciplinary processes, bullying and harassment complaints, restructuring, discrimination claims and dismissals, to drafting employment agreements, advising on Holidays Act obligations and litigating restraint of trade disputes. Clients have described me as "outstanding and leads her team to provide the same level of support." (Legal 500 Asia Pacific 2022).

I am also regularly engaged by organisations to carry out independent investigations into complaints of bullying and harassment that have been raised in their workplace. 

From a health and safety perspective, I work closely with clients to help them understand and comply with their obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 and to advise and represent organisations following a workplace accident or incident.  

I represent Duncan Cotterill on the legal panels for many major insurance companies, handling employment liability work and advising insurers and insureds on various employment claims. 

My recent experience includes:

•    Successfully defending personal grievance claims in the Employment Relations Authority and
     Employment Court for a client I have worked with for a number of years advising them on
     a range of employment related issues.
•    Advising a large national employer on all aspects of employment law including assisting with disciplinary
     investigations, large scale restructures, defending personal grievance claims and enforcing restraint
     of trade obligations.
•    Carrying out complex independent investigations into allegations of bullying and harassment for large
     public sector organisations.
•    Advising a large PCBU in a highly safety sensitive industry on its project into managing its overlapping
     health and safety duties with the hundreds of PCBUs it interacts with.
•    Successfully representing Farmlands to prevent an employee from pursuing employment claims
     against them.
•    Advising a NZX listed business in financial distress on employment aspects of the sale of its business,
     including advising on transfer and redundancy obligations. 

I am a member of the Duncan Cotterill board and am recognised as a recommended lawyer in the Legal 500 Asia Pacific 2023 legal directory. I regularly write articles, present seminars and speak at conferences and industry events on employment and health and safety issues. 

From an international perspective, I am a member representative for Duncan Cotterill’s TerraLex relationship and am a member of the Nomination and Governance committee for TerraLex. Duncan Cotterill is the only accepted TerraLex member firm in New Zealand, enabling us significant international reach and support for our clients with cross-border matters.