Believe it or not, contracts are everywhere in your life. For example, when you accept the terms and conditions of the latest Apple update without reading them, you’re actually taking part in a contract. While it may be okay to skip over that one, your employment contract may be something you wanna read over. So what is a contract of employment and what should you look for in a basic employment contract? The Mix explains.

A young man is on his laptop. He is looking at an employment contract. This is a wide-angle image.

What is a contract of employment?

An employment contract is a written agreement between an employer and employee. The ‘agreement’ part of that statement makes it so much more than a bit of paper with lots of small print. You need to read it carefully before you sign and if you don’t understand something, be sure to ask your employer. This is all really important because if you’re not careful, you could end up signing away some, or maybe all, of your rights. 

What should I look out for in my employment contract?

Your employer is legally obliged to provide the terms and conditions of employment within two months of your starting date. But you should try to get it done ASAP. In fact, it’s best if you can go over your contract with your employer as soon as you join the company; maybe even start discussing it as soon as you get the job offer.

In terms of what you need to be on the lookout for, a basic employment contract should include all of the following:

The name of the employer and employee

You need to know the full, legal name of your employer, in case you need to take action against them in the future. It might also be helpful to get their email address, although this doesn’t have to be included in the contract.

The job title and job description

Although employers don’t have to provide a job description, it’s best to try and get one. This will give you a guide to work off of if you think you are being forced to do unreasonable tasks that are outside of your jurisdiction. It’s also useful when you’re going for a promotion.

By looking at what you’re supposed to do you can provide examples of how you excel at everything in your job description, and evidence of any extra responsibilities you have taken on that aren’t mentioned.

Date of commencement of employment

This doesn’t have to be the date you start work; it’s actually usually the date you officially become an employee. 

It’s also worth mentioning that there’s something known as the probationary period at the start of your contract where you’re essentially under a trial run. This means that during that time you’re exempt from a lot of contractual obligations e.g. employee benefits. This can last anywhere from 3 to 6 months.

Temporary employment

If it’s a temporary gig, the likely duration should be stated. Likewise, if it’s continuous employment for a fixed term the contract should clearly lay the end-date.

Place of work

The address where you’ll be working from, should be written into the contract. Plus, the employer’s address should be stated. You know, just in case.

Rate of pay and pay intervals

This is defo something you need to make sure is recorded on the document. It essentially tells you how much you will be paid (before tax), and how often. 

Make sure to check that you’re being paid at least the National Minimum Wage. If it turns out you’re not then your employer could get into serious trouble.

Normal hours of work

The express terms for work hours in contracts are crucial. To find out what they are, check the normal working hours and look for mentions of compulsory overtime, or whether time off in lieu (TOIL) is given. This is because those differ from job to job. For example, lorry drivers’ contracts limit the hours that can be worked. If you wanna learn more, read our article on working hours and rest breaks here.

Holiday entitlement and holiday pay

Most full-time workers have a statutory right to 28 days’ paid annual leave. But there are a few exceptions, see our article ‘how much holiday am I entitled to’ for more information. 

Keep in mind that if your employer refuses to give you the allotted time off without any valid justification, then they’re in breach of contract and you should file a complaint against them.

Pension scheme

If you’re 22 or older, earning over £10,000 a year and work in the UK, employment law states that you should be automatically enrolled into the company’s pension scheme. The general terms and details of the pension should be included. And there should be reference to documents which set out the terms in detail.

Sick pay

This’ll tell you how much pay you’re entitled to if you can’t work. If your workplace doesn’t have any T&Cs for sick pay then the work contract must say so. See our article on the topic of sick pay for more advice.

Period of notice

This section outlines how much notice you have to give your employer before you quit. Generally speaking, the time period is normally at least one week. It also works the other way around. If you’ve been employed for at least one month then you’re entitled to at least one weeks’ notice before a dismissal.

Disciplinary rules and procedure

The rules for your type of work may be about punctuality or drunkenness. But it honestly depends on what job you’re doing since there may be more or less strict guidelines that you need to adhere to. Regardless, the custom and practice used if you break any of these rules must be listed. 

Grievance procedure

Plain and simple. This’ll tell you how complaints are handled at work.

You’re entitled to a basic employment contract

If you’re going to be employed for more than a month and work eight hours or more a week, your employer is legally obligated to give you a basic employment contract stating the terms and conditions of your job, within two months of the start of work.

Yes, oral terms are just as binding as those in writing. But in a dispute over any terms, a written statement is concrete proof, whereas verbal agreements are hard to prove.

Ever had trouble with your employment contract? We would love to hear what happened, share your story on our discussion boards.

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work rights

By Nishika Melwani

Updated on 07-Apr-2022