So, you have been given a new employment contract. Congratulations! Employment law specialists Springhouse show you what to do with it next.
First, consider your negotiating strength
Has the contract been given to you before you have handed in your notice to leave your existing job? If so, you will be in a stronger position to dictate any changes you would like to make to it, before you go ahead and hand in your notice.
Have you already handed in your notice? If so you will be in a weaker negotiating position so will need to pick any areas you are challenging very carefully. You won’t want to sour things from the get-go.
Second, take a careful look at the paperwork
Employment contracts are very different from one another. Your priorities will also differ from other peoples’. For bespoke advice, contact us. But whoever you are, you should look out for the following:
- Termination. The first things any lawyer will look for in any contract are the termination provisions. How much notice has to be given? By whom? Is this even-handed? How much probation will need to be worked and is this reasonable? Can the employer bring the contract to an end early by making a payment in lieu of notice, and, if so, will it cover all your benefits?
- Pay and benefits. The next thing an employment lawyer will look at. Are all the benefits you have agreed included in the contract itself? Are they in the cover letter but not in the contract? Are they in the staff handbook? Or do they not appear anywhere in writing at all? Asking these questions will give you a bearing on the extent to which the employer has committed to make these payments, and the extent to which they have kept them as discretionary. Obviously if there are benefits that are very important to you, you will want them to be contractual, and they should therefore ideally be included in the contract itself, or, as second best, in the offer letter. Watch out for the term “discretionary” if you think that you are going to be entitled to it.
- Place of work. You will usually be expected to cover your own expenses to get into work, so you want the place of work to be as specific and predictable as possible. Employers will want to be as flexible and broad about this as possible. If you are obliged to work in other places, it is best to sort out at this stage how travel and parking etc. is going to be paid for.
- Mobility and travel. Do you have to uproot your home and move to other places of work either in the country or abroad at the behest of the company? This may not be something you want to agree to.
- Holiday. How much are you being given, and how much will you be paid for it if you have been unable to take it all when the employment ends? Employers can calculate compensation for holiday in any way they like, so be careful that the calculation is a fair one. In terms of annual leave being given, do not forget to take national holidays into account, and see whether they are included or excluded in your allowance.
- Duties. An employer will usually want to draft these as widely as possible. Have you been given a job description? Does this accurately reflect what you imagine the job will entail?
- Intellectual property. If you are in a creative job and are expecting to be able to, for instance take your notebooks or personal creations away with you when you leave, take heed; you may be giving away more in the contract than you need to.
- Restrictions. What restrictions are in the agreement about doing other work, will this prohibit any voluntary work you do in your own time e.g charity work? Will it cut across any other money earning work you do?
- Post-termination restrictions. What are you prevented from doing once the job has finished? These prohibitions can be very broad, and can potentially keep you out of your line of work for a limited period of time. You want to be very careful that these restrictions are drafted as narrowly as possible to give you as much freedom to take other jobs as is reasonable.
- Other prohibitions during the employment. What are you able to do and what are you not able to do? Are you prevented from doing anything that you think is unreasonable? For instance, will you get the sack if you get a conviction for a driving offence? Are you allowed to talk about the company publicly? Are you contractually obliged to comply with the staff handbook (in which case you will need to see a copy)? Does the contract restrict your authority to deal with third parties unreasonably, for instance in doing business and entering into contracts on behalf of the company?
- Sickness and incapacity. Are the company’s rules around sick pay what you are expecting? Do you have the benefit of any insurance? If there is a discretion – and there usually will be – to pay you or not pay you sick pay, you may wish to ask what the practice usually is.
- Staff handbook. Does the company have a good staff handbook, including at least disciplinary, grievance and equal opportunity policies and procedures? If not, how sophisticated is the staff handbook generally? These are quite good indicators as to the sort of employer you will be signing up with.
- “Amalgamation and reconstruction”. Are there provisions in the contract allowing your employment to be terminated if the company is taken over? These provisions are more common in senior contracts and are something you need to be careful to look out for and read carefully.
- Notices. How should notice of termination be given under the contract? Does this need to be in a particular manner (in writing etc.)?
We are well versed in advising employees on their contracts of employment, so contact us now for an initial chat with an experienced employment law solicitor.