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Understanding Your Employment Contract

By: Dave Howell - Updated: 19 Oct 2017 | comments*Discuss
 
Contract Employment Employee Employer

Once the excitement of landing your job wears off, you now have to think clearly about the contract of employment you'll be offered. Once you accept an offer of employment a contract of employment comes into effect. This can be an oral agreement or a written document.

If your employer does not normally issue a formal contract, you are entitled by law to a written statement of your employment within two months of starting work. A written statement isn't a legal contract, but if you do find yourself in an Employment Tribunal, evidence of your terms and conditions could come in very handy indeed.

What is a Contract of Employment?

The terms of your employment are usually set out in a formal document that gives written details of your responsibilities and duties. The contract binds you and your employer together legally after you have both agreed the terms of the contract. When you get your contract it should include this information as an absolute minimum:
  • The legal name of your employing company.
  • Your employer's address.
  • Your full name.
  • The date your employment began.
  • Your salary and how it will be calculated and when it will be paid.
  • Your hours of work.
  • What your holiday entitlement is.
  • Your full job title.
  • The period of notice you have to give.

Some of this information may need further detail. If you will be working at different offices for instance, ensure this is stated in your contract. If your employer will allow you to Work From Home for a percentage of your working week, this should be clearly stated as well. The basic idea behind the contract is to give you and your employer a document that you can both refer back to if any disputes arise. Note that if you are a freelance or contract worker your employer is not legally bound to issue you with a contract of employment, even though this might be a good idea for both parties so you understand the terms of the current working relationship.

Other information that you should be aware of but that is often not included in a contract of employment or an employment statement that is handed to you is usually contained in your employer's handbook. The human resources department or company secretary should have a copy of this if they don't normally issue one to each new employee. The handbook usually includes:

  • Your employer's disciplinary, dismissal and Grievance Procedures.
  • How injury is handled.
  • How sickness is handled.
  • What your employer's view is regarding trade union membership.
  • What pension scheme arrangements may be available.

Before you sign your contract of employment, or agree to the oral contract you have entered into, check the handbook to ensure you understand these extra elements of your employment. If you've never seen a contract of employment before it's a good idea to familarise yourself with the usual layout. You can read an overview of contracts of employment and how they are structured on the ACAS website: www.acas.org.uk

Changing Your Contract of Employment

If your employer wants to change the terms of your employment as they are set out in your contract, they must first obtain written permission from you. This applies to whatever type of contract you have including written or oral. If you are not consulted before changes are made, you may be able to sue for breach of contract. Any changes that you agree to must be backed up with a written statement within one month of the changes taking place. You can read more about changing your contract of employment on the ACAS website: www.acas.org.uk

Working Hours

You contract of employment should clearly set out your hours of work. These are governed by the Working Time Regulations. Your employer has a legal responsibility to ensure that:
  • You don't work more than 48 hours a week within any 17 week period. Some workers will need to work longer hours. If this applies to you, you must have this agreement in writing with your employer, who must also allow you to bring that agreement to an end if you need or want to.
  • You have 11 hours of rest between each working day.
  • You have 24 hours rest in any given seven days - usually taken as the weekend.
  • You have a break of at least 20 minutes if you work longer than six hours.
  • You have four weeks paid leave per year.
  • You only work eight hours in 24 if you are a night worker.

Don't forget that you and your employer can agree that you opt out of weekly working time limits. You both must agree to this. More information about the Work Time Regulations is on the BSI website.

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[Add a Comment]
Becky1809 - Your Question:
I am contracted 16 hours a week and yet am never given the full 16. I get paid 16 hours per week but then have to owe them the hours back. Is this legal? I find myself taking on extra and working 30 hour weeks just to 'pay back' the hours.

Our Response:
No, if you employer does not have sufficient work to offer you your contracted hours, they should discuss this with you. At the moment they are in breach of contract.
SafeWorkers - 20-Oct-17 @ 2:12 PM
Can I be forced to work on alternate Saturdays without pay? I am on a salaried contract. My contract states 8 till 5, Monday to Friday only. I accept that occasional weekday overtime is unpaid but surely I can negotiate extra remuneration for Saturdays?
County Ranger - 19-Oct-17 @ 8:57 PM
I am contracted for 40hours a week. Can my employer make me work more hours against my will?
Amee - 19-Oct-17 @ 3:04 AM
I am contracted 16 hours a week and yet am never given the full 16. I get paid 16 hours per week but then have to owe them the hours back. Is this legal? I find myself taking on extra and working 30 hour weeks just to 'pay back' the hours.
Becky1809 - 18-Oct-17 @ 11:42 AM
None1 - Your Question:
Hi I started a new job at the end of August and I'm contracted to 37.5 hours a week. But every shift in the building doing 5 days over 7 will not make up 37.5 only 32/35 hours. But surely if I'm contracted I should still get paid for the full 37.5 even if I dont work 37.5?

Our Response:
Yes, exactly the same answer applies as the one to @Claus below.
SafeWorkers - 11-Oct-17 @ 12:21 PM
Claus - Your Question:
Hi,I am contracted 40hrs a week but due to changes in my workplace I don't work my hours as the employer is not able to secure enough work for my role. Moreover, they try to 'make up' hours and I am asked to carry on tasks that are not in my job description. I am paid for the hours I work, not 40. Is this a breach of contract? Thank you.

Our Response:
Yes if your contract says your weekly hours are 40 then that's what you should be paid for. If your employer is in breach of your employment contract you should talk to them first and let them know you are aware that your contract is being breached. If your employer does not resolve the issue, follow your company's complaints procedure. If the matter is not resolved by your employer, you can take them to an Employment Tribunal.
SafeWorkers - 11-Oct-17 @ 12:16 PM
Hi I started a new job at the end of August and I'm contracted to 37.5 hours a week. But every shift in the building doing 5 days over 7 will not make up 37.5 only 32/35 hours. But surely if I'm contracted I should still get paid for the full 37.5 even if i dont work 37.5?
None1 - 10-Oct-17 @ 9:29 AM
Hi, I am contracted 40hrs a week but due to changes in my workplace I don't work my hours as the employer is not able to secure enough work for my role. Moreover, they try to 'make up' hours and I am asked to carry on tasks that are not in my job description. I am paid for the hours I work, not 40. Is this a breach of contract? Thank you.
Claus - 10-Oct-17 @ 8:28 AM
Hi I have a friend who has a 40 hrs a week contract but often only given 30hrs or less. She is paid for what she works not what she is contracted to work is this right
DIXIE - 6-Oct-17 @ 11:45 AM
I went for my interview and was told it was 3 days at 7.5 shifts but 24/7 I asked that this meant either 1 shift on a night morning evening which she agreed I started training and loved the job so signed the contract and handed my notice in Training was full time hours and over 5 days I was ok with this as it was training but after a month I asked when was I going back to the 3 days on Rota The supervisor told me it's not 3 7.5 shifts but 22.5 based over 5 days I spoke to the manager and she said she didn't know this but she couldn't give me 3 days as it wasn't what she thought I only agreed to the job as I suffer severe migraine and told her at the interview that's why I needed to only work 3 days so my body could rest My contract states 22.5 24/7 It doesn't say 5in7 like ever one else's does Where do I stand I've had time off and a couple of times ended up in a&e because of my migraine as I don't have time to rest and they are not happy I'm at a loss now and unhappy at work
J - 5-Oct-17 @ 10:56 PM
Barbs- Your Question:
I began working as a cleaner at a primary school in July of this year. I was told at the interview I would be contracted to work 10 hours per week, with a possibility of 16 hours per week starting in September. I was due to receive my first pay check at the end of July. No pay. I called both the school and the company who sort the wages. The school put the blame solely on the company. When I called the company, they informed me I was on a zero hours contract and that no time sheets had been handed in. I went back to the caretaker and the head (who both informed me at my initial interview that I would be on a 10hr contract). They both said (again) that I was definitely on a 10hr contract. I continued to ask them both for both my wages and my written contract. I eventually got 70 hours wages at the end of August which included as I thought, the retaining wage for school holidays. I received no payslip. At the end of September, I looked forward to both a contract (yes, very overdue) and a months pay. I received no contract, and 85pence for septembers wage. However, there was a payslip that showed they had paid me, then clawed back what looks like the August money. I’m absolutely baffled. I tried talking to the head today, but he dismissed me as if I was an idiot. Please - any ideas/advice would be gratefully received!!

Our Response:
We can't see your contract terms so it's difficult for us to comment - did it mention a retaining wage etc? It might be worth taking it to a Citizens' Advice bureau or contacting ACAS for some specific help.
SafeWorkers - 4-Oct-17 @ 2:39 PM
I began working as a cleaner at a primary school in July of this year. I was told at the interview I would be contracted to work 10 hours per week, with a possibility of 16 hours per week starting in September. I was due to receive my first pay check at the end of July. No pay. I called both the school and the company who sort the wages. The school put the blame solely on the company. When I called the company, they informed me I was on a zero hours contract and that no time sheets had been handed in. I went back to the caretaker and the head (who both informed me at my initial interview that I would be on a 10hr contract). They both said (again) that I was definitely on a 10hr contract. I continued to ask them both for both my wages and my written contract. I eventually got 70 hours wages at the end of August which included as I thought, the retaining wage for school holidays. I received no payslip. At the end of September, I looked forward to both a contract (yes, very overdue) and a months pay. I received no contract, and 85pence for septembers wage. However, there was a payslip that showed they had paid me, then clawed back what looks like the August money. I’m absolutely baffled. I tried talking to the head today, but he dismissed me as if I was an idiot. Please - any ideas/advice would be gratefully received!!
Barbs - 3-Oct-17 @ 10:26 PM
Anon - Your Question:
I have 40 hour contract working Monday to Friday like all other staff in the office but now I'm expected to work every Saturday morning. I only have Sunday off and it's not just every other weekend rotating with another member of staff. I'm the only one that has to do it else I'm told I'm not good enough. What can I do?

Our Response:
You employer cannot make you work more hours than stated in your contract or on days that are not stated in your contract without your consent. Follow our guide to objecting to changes in your contract.
SafeWorkers - 2-Oct-17 @ 3:14 PM
My daughter-in-law started work at a golf club in October 2016 on a 40hr contract. But quite often over winter months or during bad weather the cub shut early. This summer she worked extended hours during the week (as well as having a 2 week paid holiday), but when she handed her notice in on 19 August she was stunned to discover thatthat period she owed the company 120 hours. Which she is now expected to work off in her spare time. Is there anything that can be done to reduce her liability?
rachel - 29-Sep-17 @ 9:34 PM
I have 40 hour contract working Monday to Friday like all other staff in the office but now I'mexpected to work every Saturday morning. I only have Sunday off and it's not just every other weekend rotating with another member of staff. I'm the only one that has to do it else I'm told I'm not good enough. What can I do?
Anon - 29-Sep-17 @ 9:08 PM
none - Your Question:
My new boss said I would be working 33hrs and now I have to work 36 hrs and only get paid for 33hrs can they do that

Our Response:
No, this is a breach of contract. Raise this with your employer, if it's not addressed, follow the steps advised in our guide here
SafeWorkers - 29-Sep-17 @ 12:31 PM
my new boss said I would be working 33hrs and now i have to work 36 hrs and only get paid for 33hrs can they do that
none - 27-Sep-17 @ 6:00 PM
Natalieee - Your Question:
I am contracted to 16hours as I took that contract to work around my children. I understand I need to do overtime now and then. But I've been put down to work overtime every single week and was told that's what the company expects of me. But I can't do overtime every week. And also I only get 2 weeks of overtime paid and the last two weeks is basic (16) hours yet if I always do overtime I'm basically doing the last two weeks extra for nothing.

Our Response:
If your contract does not allow for this, your employer cannot expect you to do it. Take a look at this guide and particular the section on breach of contract
SafeWorkers - 20-Sep-17 @ 12:43 PM
I am contracted to 16hours as I took that contract to work around my children. I understand I need to do overtime now and then. But I've been put down to work overtime every single week and was told that's what the company expects of me. But I can't do overtime every week. And also I only get 2 weeks of overtime paid and the last two weeks is basic (16) hours yet if I always do overtime I'm basically doing the last two weeks extra for nothing.
Natalieee - 19-Sep-17 @ 8:28 PM
I currently have a 30 hour contract at work and I work in retail. I am looking to progress to a 35 hour contract and I have asked for this which I am told it will come but just not yet I have been working over 35 hours per week for the last 12 weeks on average is there a legal leg to stand on that I should be entitled to a contract of 35 hours
Parky - 15-Sep-17 @ 8:16 PM
gavlaaa - Your Question:
I have a 40 hour contract and am on a salary, but if I was to work over 40 hours that week am I entitled to extra pay?! I'm being asked to work extra days but for no extra benefit financially to myself? Is this right?!

Our Response:
Check the wording in your contract. Some well paid/managerial staff are expected to put in extra time occasionally. If however, you're being asked to work whole days above your contract on a regular basis, your employer should pay you or offer you a day of in lieu.
SafeWorkers - 14-Sep-17 @ 2:41 PM
Andyexjr - Your Question:
Hi so I'm on a 24 hour contract but haven't worked less than 35hrs for six months I would like to have the bigger hours and contract but is there a way that my employer should give it to me or will it continue as overtime for the rest of my career thanks in advance

Our Response:
Negotiate this with your employer. If you continue to agree to work the additional hours, without addressing it, your employer will continue to give you them.
SafeWorkers - 13-Sep-17 @ 2:17 PM
I have a 40 hour contract and am on a salary, but if I was to work over 40 hours that week am I entitled to extra pay?! I'm being asked to work extra days but for no extra benefit financially to myself? Is this right?!
gavlaaa - 12-Sep-17 @ 2:37 PM
Hi so I'm on a 24 hour contract but haven't worked less than 35hrs for six months I would like to have the bigger hours and contract but is there a way that my employer should give it to me or will it continue as overtime for the rest of my career thanks in advance
Andyexjr - 12-Sep-17 @ 1:24 PM
Daz - Your Question:
My current employer wants me to take a new role within the company but the contract of employment is for 55 hours per week. if I don't agree to this then I will not get the job. is this legal as I always thought a company cannot force you to 'opt-out' of the European working time directive?

Our Response:
You can't be forced to opt out of the working time regulations, but do note that some sectors/jobs are exempt from the rules. These are:
Airline staff
A worker on ships or boats
A worker in the road transport industry, eg delivery drivers (except for drivers of vehicles under 3.5 tonnes using GB Domestic drivers’ hours rules)
Other staff who travel in and operate vehicles covered by EU rules on drivers’ hours, eg bus conductors
A security guard on a vehicle carrying high-value goods
SafeWorkers - 11-Sep-17 @ 2:48 PM
My current employer wants me to take a new role within the company but the contract of employment is for 55 hours per week. if i don't agree to this then i will not get the job. is this legal as i always thought a company cannot force you to 'opt-out' of the European working time directive?
Daz - 10-Sep-17 @ 4:48 AM
i am on a 16 hour contract but ive been asking for a full time position at worj however the boss says they dont have any full time positions available, i work on avaerage 30-40 hours a week this month alone to help cover someone who is ill however the full time contract is only 36 hours a week where as i have done 47 this week alone
dylanc - 9-Sep-17 @ 6:46 PM
Lucy - Your Question:
Am writing this on behalf of my daughter.lucy was due to have an op yesterday her work place covered her shifts. after waiting in hospital from 8 am until 4pm to then be told the op had cancelled lucy then informed her work immediately that she would be turning to work ,to revive an email that she can only have 24 hours which are night shift back to back when she contacted 36 can you please tell if this correct and should she be paid for the outstanding hours she is a carer

Our Response:
We don't have all the details of her contract but no ordinarily you are not entitled to be paid for shifts which you have not worked.
SafeWorkers - 8-Sep-17 @ 2:42 PM
Rob0410 - Your Question:
My contract states 40 hours per week but my working times state from 9.30am untill finish. I only get paid up untill 6.30pm and don't have any pay for hours worked after that. Is this legal?

Our Response:
You shouldn't normally be expected towork additional hours on a regular basis without remuneration.Most contracts allow for occasional extra hours.
SafeWorkers - 8-Sep-17 @ 1:46 PM
Am writing this on behalf of my daughter.lucy was due to have an op yesterday her work place covered her shifts. after waiting in hospital from 8 am until 4pm to then be told the op had cancelled lucy then informed her work immediately that she would be turning to work ,to revive an email that she can only have 24 hours which are night shift back to back when she contacted 36 can you please tell if this correct and should she be paid for the outstanding hours she is a carer
Lucy - 8-Sep-17 @ 11:27 AM
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