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Contracts

All employees are deemed to have a contractual relationship with their employers, even in the absence of a formal agreement in writing. Most bosses will provide a written contract on starting a new job. It can contain many rights and obligations that will govern your relationship with your employer, however some terms are implied into all employment contracts even if they are not written down, such as a duty of mutual trust and confidence. This means that if either party does something in bad faith, such as if an employee steals confidential information or an employer changes hours of work against the terms of the contract and without your consent, the other side can claim compensation for breach of contract.

You have the right to receive a written record of the main terms of your employment, such as your job description and hours of work, in writing within two months of starting a job, under section one of the Employment Rights Act 1996.

This includes:

– name and address of employer and employee

– date job started

– salary information, including when you will be paid

– hours of work (see totaljobs’ advice on working time)

– holiday entitlement

– job title

– location of work

– notice period

– employment length – whether the job is permanent, or temporary

Employers may add restrictive clauses to a contract, for example, preventing an ex-employee from poaching staff or clients. However, in practice such clauses can be quite difficult for an employer to enforce as they must be specific and as short-term as possible, and go no further than is reasonable to protect the company’s legitimate business interests.

Notice Period

Generally, unless there is a specific notice period stated in the contract, you are entitled to one week’s paid notice in the first two years of employment and an additional week’s paid notice for every extra complete year of employment up to a maximum of 12 weeks. You must not give less than a week’s notice.

Some employers have so-called ‘garden leave’ clauses incorporated into the contracts of senior and key employees, which allow them to stop the employee from coming into work during their notice. But unless there is a specific clause in the contract you have a right to be paid and provided with work and the employer cannot legally refuse you.

Can the terms of the contract be changed without my consent?

An employer does not have an automatic right to vary a staff member’s terms of employment. The extent to which your managers can change your working arrangements depend on the terms of your contract. If the contract contains clauses that allow employers to make changes, then the employer will be able to alter the terms as far as these allow. Otherwise, the employer must get your consent. If you are offered changes to your contract you can either accept or reject them. Acceptance must be positive and total – though it can be oral. Even your behaviour can form an acceptance, for instance if you start turning up for work at the new time you will be taken to have accepted the new term.

Can the employer dismiss me, then make me accept a new contract?

By doing this, the employer may be liable for claims of breach of contract, unfair dismissal or redundancy if the correct procedures are not followed and there are no appropriate reasons for dismissal. If you believe you have been dismissed unfairly seek advice from theCitizens Advice Bureau or a solicitor (for a contact in your area visit the employment solicitors web site on www.employment-solicitors.co.uk.