By law, an employer must provide an employee or worker with a written statement (usually in the form of an employment contract) containing their main terms of employment. When properly drafted, written employment contracts can provide good protection for both an employer and employee, and can help avoid disputes down the line.
Since 6 April 2020, employers are required to give a written contract to employees on or before that employee’s first day. Under UK law therefore, any new employee or new recruit should be receiving their written statement or employment contract at the start of the employment relationship at the latest. Sometimes, an employer will decide to send an employment agreement out shortly after the job offer is made via an offer letter.
It is a legal requirement (under the Employment Rights Act 1996) that an employment contract must contain things such as an employee’s start date (i.e. when continuous employment began), salary (ensuring it complies with the requirements of the national minimum wage), job title, working hours, place of work, holiday entitlement (including annual leave and public holidays entitlements), notice periods, leave entitlements (e.g. parental leave) and whether any collective agreements apply (collective agreements are separate agreements between an employer and a representative body such as a trade union). In reality however, a much more detailed contract is advisable in order to protect both employer and employees and to set out quite clearly each party’s rights and responsibilities to each other.
There are many things that are advisable to include in an employment contract. Examples include clauses relating to:
Yes, an employee will often turn to their own employment contract for guidance on their employment rights, and whilst an employee may still decide to seek impartial advice on their employment rights (including their statutory rights), having a written statement of contract terms may at least reduce the likelihood of them turning to a solicitor.
Ideally, a contract of employment should be given to a new employee at the very latest on their first day of employment. Also, ideally, you should get both employer and employee to sign the contract of employment. This way, there can’t be any dispute as to whether you have a legally binding agreement because the contract will become legally binding on the date of it being signed by employer and employee. However, we often come across situations where a contract has been given (but not signed) and an employee has still been working to the contract terms for a period of time. In such a situation, there is often an argument that employer and employee have accepted the contract terms through their conduct (i.e. by working for the employer, the employee has agreed the contract terms). Whilst not ideal, this type of situation (where a contract has been given is at least preferable to a situation where legal terms have just been verbally agreed between the employer and the employee. In that type of situation, it’s very difficult to ascertain what agreement is actually in place.
Whilst an employment contract contains the express terms of an employee’s contract (which can only be changed in specific ways), a staff handbook will often be non-contractual (meaning it can be changed much more easily). A handbook (sometimes referred to as an employee handbook) will usually contain all of the employer’s policies and procedures; from things such as sickness policies and disciplinary and grievance procedures to equal opportunities policies and expenses policies. Read more about staff handbooks, policies and procedures here.
We would always advise against this approach. By including these procedures in a written statement or employment agreement, an employer is essentially tying themselves down to procedures that can’t be easily changed in future and are increasing the risk of breach of contract claims against them.
An employee can potentially bring an Employment Tribunal claim against their employer if they haven’t been provided with a written contract. This can lead to the employee being awarded compensation of up to 4 weeks’ salary, but only if the employee has also brought another claim against their employer, such as an unfair dismissal claim.
Potentially yes. Some unwritten things can become part of employment contracts by a method called custom and practice, i.e. because they’ve happened regularly over a period of time. For example, if an employer has paid an annual bonus to an employee for the past 10 years, there’s an argument to say that the legal right to receive that bonus has become part of the individual’s contract (even if it’s not actually written down in the contract). The employer could have avoided any confusion around this earlier however by explaining in writing that the annual bonus is conditional on certain things.
There are 4 ways in which an employment agreement can be changed. They are:
An employment contract can be brought to an end either with notice (as per the notice period in the employee’s contract) or without notice (e.g. where the employee has done something to justify the employer ending their contract or because the contract was for a fixed contract term only). Read more about dismissals here.
Depending on the employment status of an individual, it may be that employee contracts are not the most suitable type of agreement for you. For example, for casual workers, you may wish to consider putting zero hours contracts in place. Alternatively, some employers will turn to using an agency worker instead. In other cases, the employment status of an individual may mean that you should be looking at a self employed agreement (more on the issue of self employed agreement arrangements here). Of course, these different varieties of contracts will significantly affect the types of employment rights an individual will have. For example, a self employed individual won’t be entitled to be paid the national minimum wage or be paid holiday pay. It’s important however that the contract the individual is given accurately reflects the true nature of the relationship between them and their employer.
If you need any advice on employment contracts, please contact a member of our employment law team in confidence here or on 02920 829 100 for a free initial call to see how they can help.
To speak to one of our experts today, please contact us on 02920 829 100 or by using our Contact Us form for a free initial chat to see how we can help.
I have worked with Darwin Gray for a number of years and the level of service, professionalism and timely response is second to none. I would highly recommend Darwin Gray to any business.”
Darwin Gray have provided us with a first-class service for many years now. They really take the time to understand our business and develop relationships which results in advice and support that is contextualised and effective.”
We have worked with Darwin Gray for several years and have always found their services and advice to be first class.”
An extremely professional and sincere company who make time for your queries and understand the need to break down certain facts and information to ensure everything is understood perfectly. I would highly recommend the company to anyone looking for any type of legal advice”
PSS has worked with Darwin Gray for many years. We have always received an excellent service. Prompt and professional advice and support.”
We have used several departments within DG recently and we have been very pleased with an effective, efficient and down to earth service. Very happy thus far and I expect that we will continue to use DG.”
Darwin Gray offer us truly superb services. Very professional, quick and services available bilingually which is very important to us, highly recommend.”
My “go to” in urgent and time sensitive cases for direction, support and advice. The team are quick to respond to calls or emails for advice and support on all matters. Always explain complex matters in a way a lay person can easily understand.”
Darwin Gray have acted for myself and my company over a number of years and at all times we have been treated with a professional manner yet maintain a common-sense approach at all levels. We couldn’t recommend them more highly.”
We have been clients of Darwin Gray for many years; they’ve always dealt with all of our legal matters with such professionalism. They work around us, even during awkward hours, and we feel confident we can always rely on them.”
Darwin Gray has been acting for Siltbuster for more than ten years. We would have no hesitation in recommending Darwin Gray to other organisations small or large.”
From the very first conversation, I had no doubt that Darwin Gray should be the firm to receive our instructions on this matter. I would have no hesitation in recommending Darwin Gray.”
We regularly instruct Darwin Gray. Their service in dealing with our transactional matters and disputes is always professional, prompt and efficient.”
Darwin Gray guided me through a long and extended process that would have been much more difficult had it not been for their patience and constant support.”
Excellent and efficient service. Great result achieved, highly professional and transparent on pricing. Would recommend.”
Superb legal service provided. Exceeded expectations. They went above and beyond in order to provide the best service possible.”
Very professional and understanding. They were a calming influence in a very troubling situation and they brought it to a very successful conclusion”
We have used Darwin Gray and have been seriously impressed. The personal approach is what Darwin Gray are excelling on and is the reason why we will continue to work with them in the future.”