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Understanding Employment Contracts

By: Chris Hogan MSc - Updated: 20 Apr 2017 | comments*Discuss
 
Employer Employee Employment Contract

The contract between an employer and an employee forms the basis of the working relationship and it is vital to read them. If it is a written contract it may also refer to another document or documents, such as a staff handbook, so, tedious though it might be, new starters are well advised to go through all this information properly at the start of a new position.

Written Contracts or Verbal?

It's a common fallacy that an employment contract has to be in writing. Of course, they often are, but verbal contracts are just as valid. If you have agreed to work for someone and will be paid in return, that is a binding contract even if it's not written down, and as such, protects you from any discrimination or illegal behaviour on the part of an employer. If a written contract is expected, then it should be with you within two months of starting a new position.

A written contract will cover, as a minimum, the hours you are expected to work, where you will be working, notice periods, how your pay will be calculated and your entitlements in terms of holidays, breaks, sick pay and the like. The contract should also state the name and address of the company that is responsible for paying your salary. There may well be more information but anything with less than these basics should be viewed with suspicion.

Fixed-Term Contracts

Many full-time jobs are now offered on terms known as 'fixed-term contracts', which means that the contract will specify a date on which the employment will end. This is often for quite valid reasons, for example, covering for someone who is on maternity leave and is expected to return to work after, say, nine months or a year, or to fill a post on a project which is expected to be completed during a set period.

It is just as often the case, however, that a fixed-term contract is used to limit the company's commitment to keeping a person in a job for too long. They can dispose of the person relatively easily after the contract has expired, without having to go through any disciplinary procedures or dismissal process.

Contractual Negotiations

Contracts often come to the fore when businesses need to make changes. As a contract is an agreement between two parties, if one breaks it then the other party can take action. For an employee, this means that if a change is forced upon you that is unacceptable you are able to declare the contract terminated and walk out, claiming Constructive Dismissal. You can also choose to stay in employment and make a claim for breach of contract, which, if successful, could net you compensation.

It obviously makes sense if both parties agree to any changes that are necessary to an employment contract, such as those caused by a relocation of a business, New Working Hours or pay schedules. Negotiations around such changes often lead to compensation for employees, such as travelling expenses for the first year in the case of relocation.

The changes can come from the employee, too. It could be that changes in an employee's personal life means that they cannot work the same hours that they used to and need to change. Most employers will be open to such changes as long as they don't affect the employee's ability to get the work done, but the negotiations can be tricky.

Independent Advice

It is important to read and, to the best of everyone's ability, understand an employment contract, although the way many of them are written doesn't make this easy. The other area where employees need to be careful is when employers request changes to working conditions. These may not necessarily be bad changes but if they materially affect the conditions outlined in an employment contract, then both the employer and the employee need to go through a negotiation process to ensure that the contract keeps pace with reality and that compensation is arranged, if appropriate, in return for agreeing to the changes.

This can be a tricky area though, and it is vital to seek out independent expert advice. Trade Union Members can get advice from the union representatives and non-union members can turn to the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) or ACAS, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service.

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[Add a Comment]
cas - Your Question:
Can I demote myself without employers pay cutting me

Our Response:
Any change to your employment contract would have to discussed and agreed directly with your employer.
WorkingRights - 21-Apr-17 @ 12:33 PM
Can I demote myself withoutemployers pay cuttingme
cas - 20-Apr-17 @ 7:23 PM
Iam a part time work doing 20hours Monday to Thursday now my boss has told me and some other women thet he only won't us to do 3hour a day my contact hours are 20and not give us any notes can he do thet
Lin - 10-Mar-17 @ 8:17 PM
Mary - Your Question:
Im working but my company change my posicion for diferente job but I still nota having contract since 1 week What I have to do they have to give me contracto por no ?

Our Response:
You would need to speak directly to your line manager about this.
WorkingRights - 1-Apr-16 @ 12:52 PM
Im working but my company change my posicion for diferente job but i still nota having contract since 1 week What i have to do they have to give me contracto por no ?
Mary - 1-Apr-16 @ 6:02 AM
@GoldenG - It very much depends on your contract, if you have set hours of work, your employer will be able to make changes if there is a clause in your contract to say it can. If there isn't a clause and you are on fixed hours and not zero hours then if you don't agree to the change, your employer cannot vary the existing contract without being in breach. But you have to be careful here and before broaching this with your employer you may wish to contact the Acas Helpline for further constructive advice on 0300 123 1100.
WorkingRights - 17-Dec-14 @ 12:30 PM
I'm contracted to do 30 hours a week, but for the last 3 weeks I've been doing less. in fact a lot of the people I work with have been doing less than their contract. it's not possible to make up the hours I am missing out on because I am always short by a number of hours, do I have any right to say to my manager that I need to fulfil my contract?
GoldenG - 16-Dec-14 @ 10:35 PM
@Pedro - it's hard to fathom what you are asking, as your question is a little jumbled. I think it would be better for you to contact Acas on its free helpline to explain. One of its advisors will be able to give you all the employment help you need. Tel 0300 123 1100.
WorkingRights - 8-Dec-14 @ 2:59 PM
Can some one answer me. When you are in probation for a Position in our job of 5 years. Because of tecnic company problems Forced almost to acept such position.For later see that The position cames without any tranning or campany suport. And for more they have paid me out of the pay slip and notthe correct amount agreed. Remaining on job due to Cpmpamy needs they now trying to blame me for the results. Results that eflect the lack of Training. Suport for all remaine staff with bigger.
pedro - 7-Dec-14 @ 4:27 AM
@Tina - this is always a tricky one to answer as it is dependent upon the employer and how they can get around certain issues. They may decide to extend a period of probation if the employee has been unable to work during some of the period, for example due to sickness.An employer has to bear in mind that an employee could go for unfair dismissal, so they have to do everything within the guidelines. You might gain more information via the Workplace Law website link here. I hope this helps.
WorkingRights - 24-Oct-14 @ 12:01 PM
@charles - I'd have a word with your HR department especially as it applies only to you. Seems a bit harsh if you ask me.
Jan - 24-Oct-14 @ 11:45 AM
Hi, Could you pls help me. I started to work for a company on the 3rd June on a 6 month probation. I have since became ill on August the 26th with depression. I am on SSP. Where do I stand can they say my contract is not going to be renewed or do they have to keep my job open. I am really not wanting to go back as I'm not fit for work. Thank you Regards Tina
tina - 23-Oct-14 @ 8:47 PM
My contract states 'normal working hours 8.00am to 6.00pm' which is 9 hours paid and an hour unpaid for lunch. My employer has said he wants me to do 9 hours which will mean being paid for 8 hours with an hour for lunch. Can he do this? There are 4 of us who work here but this applies to only me
Charles - 8-Oct-14 @ 12:59 PM
My daughter began working in May for a newly established Bar, and began working form the time it which it opened in May 2014. The bar only has 4 staff employed to work in the bar,herself, 1 other bar staff, the owner and one bar manager who has recently become a partner.She raised a concerns 2 weeks ago with the original owner of the bar that she felt the partner was increasingly frosty around her since becoming a partner, making her clean toilets throughout the whole shift, been sharp if she had spent time talking to customers,and more recently cutting her shifts at short notice claiming she wasn't needed, but then asking her colleague to cover. She approached the owner after her colleague and patrons mentioned witnessing things, and asked him to foster a meeting so she could raise her concerns with her, to clear the air. He agreed to speak with the partner this was on the Thursday Evening ( two weeks ago Thursday 11/9/14). My daughter was due to work the following evening 12/9/14 at 8pm. During the daytime of the 12/9 my daughter had to attend a&e with a suspected broken foot after a fall, all of which is recorded at hospital. She was discharged at lunch from a&e with crutches and had a bad sprain and told stay off her foot, however she attempted to see if she was able to stand on the foot to see if she would of been able to manage her shift, but at 3pm called them to inform them what had happened and explained she would not be able to come in providing over 5 hours notice. She was then told not to return to the bar, a little stunned,my daughter visited the bar the following day to speak to the owners but was told the partner would call her to discuss.....left all week not knowing what was happening,exactly a week later Saturday 20/9/14she received a call from the partner stating she had been terminated, as they felt her attitude wasn't right for the business, but that they hoped she would not bad mouth them and was welcome to return to have a drink. They still owe her wages from 2 weeks ago for work she had carried out, which she has yet to receive. Every pay day since working for them which was weekly, they have incorrectly paid her and only after she pointed out they had paid her the wrong hourly rate to both her and colleague, getting the minimum wage wrong for her, they then informed them they would be going from weekly to monthly pay prior to them terminating her employment without any notice.... She has no contract, and no statement of works, which I was unaware of,She is unable to claim benefits as she recently enrolled on a part-time course to study as they told her when she took the job they would work around her hours when they were set, and has now been told she's is unable to claim any help because she is studying.Can you please tell me what her rights are , if any?
lillyg72 - 22-Sep-14 @ 11:23 AM
I work for an online Travel Company. At a recent 1-2-1 meeting we were told that any mistakes made on bookings would have to be paid for out of our wages and were asked to sign a form. The situation which I was put in was that I had to sign the form as everyone else had, is this legal, can my employer make deductions for any amount for a mistake made on a booking? I have never received a revised contract of employment stating this. I am now dreading making any slight mistakes as I cannot afford for my basic wage to be affected? Thanks.
Zanny - 7-Aug-12 @ 4:17 PM
i have worked for a parish council for over 7 years and have never been shown/told about my contract, therefore i haven't signed it. the council have decided to update all emplyee's work contracts. i was told by my line manager that 2 members of council would be interviewing me, i asked if i needed to have an independent representative present, i was told no as they would only be actually talking to me about what jobs i do to tailor the contract suitably. on the day of the "chat" 2 members of council & my line manager called me into her office and informed me that they had drafted a copy of my updated contract & would be going through it with me but that once it is typed up i'm to read it & sign asap to it could be approved by the next appropriate meeting (2 weeks). I have to say it was an intimidating situation, there was a clause in the contract that stated that i have to get written permission from council if i apply for a second job, i work part-time (9 hours a week) & said that i dont see why i would need to inform council if i applied for another job as it would have to fit in around my present one if i was looking for another part-time vacancy. They admitted that this clause is normally for full time workers and are checking it. They also mentioned their equal opportunity policy which i haven't seen. I was informed that as i have worked over 5 years without a break i am entitled to 1 weeks extra holiday, i wasn't told this. It should have came into affect last year! Can i claim it for this year as i wasn't told? Nothing is mentioned about their compassionate leave policy which i understand isn't a legal requirement on their part but should be good practice to have one in place. Can i request that i have this in my contract so all parties know where they stand? Any advice on these matters would be very gratefully received.
Cheryl Malham - 4-Jul-12 @ 8:38 PM
i have worked for a parish council for over 7 years and have never been shown/told about my contract, therefore i haven't signed it. the council have decided to update all emplyee's work contracts. i was told by my line manager that 2 members of council would be interviewing me, i asked if i needed to have an independent representative present, i was told no as they would only be actually talking to me about what jobs i do to tailor the contract suitably. on the day of the "chat" 2 members of council & my line manager called me into her office and informed me that they had drafted a copy of my updated contract & would be going through it with me but that once it is typed up i'm to read it & sign asap to it could be approved by the next appropriate meeting (2 weeks). I have to say it was an intimidating situation, there was a clause in the contract that stated that i have to get written permission from council if i apply for a second job, i work part-time (9 hours a week) & said that i dont see why i would need to inform council if i applied for another job as it would have to fit in around my present one if i was looking for another part-time vacancy. They admitted that this clause is normally for full time workers and are checking it. They also mentioned their equal opportunity policy which i haven't seen. I was informed that as i have worked over 5 years without a break i am entitled to 1 weeks extra holiday, i wasn't told this. It should have came into affect last year! Can i claim it for this year as i wasn't told? Nothing is mentioned about their compassionate leave policy which i understand isn't a legal requirement on their part but should be good practice to have one in place. Can i request that i have this in my contract so all parties know where they stand? Any advice on these matters would be very gratefully received.
Cheryl Malham - 4-Jul-12 @ 8:37 PM
i have worked for a parish council for over 7 years and have never been shown/told about my contract, therefore i haven't signed it. the council have decided to update all emplyee's work contracts. i was told by my line manager that 2 members of council would be interviewing me, i asked if i needed to have an independent representative present, i was told no as they would only be actually talking to me about what jobs i do to tailor the contract suitably. on the day of the "chat" 2 members of council & my line manager called me into her office and informed me that they had drafted a copy of my updated contract & would be going through it with me but that once it is typed up i'm to read it & sign asap to it could be approved by the next appropriate meeting (2 weeks). I have to say it was an intimidating situation, there was a clause in the contract that stated that i have to get written permission from council if i apply for a second job, i work part-time (9 hours a week) & said that i dont see why i would need to inform council if i applied for another job as it would have to fit in around my present one if i was looking for another part-time vacancy. They admitted that this clause is normally for full time workers and are checking it. They also mentioned their equal opportunity policy which i haven't seen. I was informed that as i have worked over 5 years without a break i am entitled to 1 weeks extra holiday, i wasn't told this. It should have came into affect last year! Can i claim it for this year as i wasn't told? Nothing is mentioned about their compassionate leave policy which i understand isn't a legal requirement on their part but should be good practice to have one in place. Can i request that i have this in my contract so all parties know where they stand? Any advice on these matters would be very gratefully received.
Cheryl Malham - 4-Jul-12 @ 8:31 PM
i have worked for a parish council for over 7 years and have never been shown/told about my contract, therefore i haven't signed it. the council have decided to update all emplyee's work contracts. i was told by my line manager that 2 members of council would be interviewing me, i asked if i needed to have an independent representative present, i was told no as they would only be actually talking to me about what jobs i do to tailor the contract suitably. on the day of the "chat" 2 members of council & my line manager called me into her office and informed me that they had drafted a copy of my updated contract & would be going through it with me but that once it is typed up i'm to read it & sign asap to it could be approved by the next appropriate meeting (2 weeks). I have to say it was an intimidating situation, there was a clause in the contract that stated that i have to get written permission from council if i apply for a second job, i work part-time (9 hours a week) & said that i dont see why i would need to inform council if i applied for another job as it would have to fit in around my present one if i was looking for another part-time vacancy. They admitted that this clause is normally for full time workers and are checking it. They also mentioned their equal opportunity policy which i haven't seen. I was informed that as i have worked over 5 years without a break i am entitled to 1 weeks extra holiday, i wasn't told this. It should have came into affect last year! Can i claim it for this year as i wasn't told? Nothing is mentioned about their compassionate leave policy which i understand isn't a legal requirement on their part but should be good practice to have one in place. Can i request that i have this in my contract so all parties know where they stand? Any advice on these matters would be very gratefully received.
Cheryl Malham - 4-Jul-12 @ 8:27 PM
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