Contract law can be tricky. Once you accept an offer of employment, you’re technically entering into a contractual relationship with your employer .. On or prior to the start of your employment, you should receive a written contract outlining the terms of your engagement. This should include the rights and obligations governing the relationship.
There are certain terms that, although they might not be put in writing, are implied in a contract. So it's best to get yourself up to speed as soon as you can. Such terms include mutual trust and confidence. If either you as the employee, or your employer breaches any of these terms, the other party can claim compensation for breach of contract. This includes you signing a new job, then changing your mind when a better offer comes along. Actions governed by such terms include the theft of confidential information or a change to your working hours without prior consent.
Some of the more common questions asked about employment contracts are covered below:
Am I legally entitled to written contract employment?
According to the Employment Rights Act (1996), all employees are legally entitled to a written statement of the terms of their employment. This must be received within two months of starting a new job.
The contract must include information such as the names of the employer and the employee, job title, the date the employment started (if this is a contract position, the date the contract ends should also be included), the work location, the amount and frequency of pay, working hours, holiday entitlement, sick pay, pension details and any required notice period.
You should also get a staff handbook, which will deal with other aspects of your employment contract, such as disciplinary and grievance procedures. It’s now common practice to publish this information on a company intranet. It should be one of your first ports of call when you start a new job. And yes, we mean reading up on this before having a laugh at the mugshots of senior management.
What else should I look for in my employment contract?
Employers are entitled to add other restrictive clauses to your contract. For example, a clause preventing you from working within the same group of organisations once you leave.
If you hold a senior or key position, or if you intend to leave to go and work for a competitor, a “gardening leave” clause may be included. In this case, the employer can stop the employee from coming into work during the notice period to prevent the removal of sensitive information. This is a good thing though — you still get paid during this period so you can look at it as free holiday time!
Can the terms of the contract be changed without my consent?
No, basically(good to have a simple answer once in a while isn't it?). The employer cannot change the terms of your employment contract without your prior consent. If the employer imposes any such changes, they are in breach of contract.
Can I be dismissed if I refuse to accept new contract terms?
No. Twice in a row, see? Again, the employer would be liable for breach of contract or subject to a claim of unfair dismissal if they fail to follow the correct procedures.
If there are no appropriate reasons for terminating your contract you’re entitled to take them to a tribunal if you believe you have been dismissed unfairly. Remember, we said 'appropriate'. Should this be the case, you must complain to an employment tribunal within three months of dismissal as long as you have at least one year of continuous service.
• For further advice on contractual issues, speak to a solicitor or your local Citizens Advice Bureau.
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Disclaimer: the information on these pages is provided for your information and reference only. Before making any important decisions regarding your employment or any legal matter, you should consult a qualified professional adviser who can provide specific advice based on your individual position.