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Understanding Your Employment Contract

By: Dave Howell - Updated: 27 Mar 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]
Barbara - Your Question:
I have worked for my employer for 2 years, 18 hours per week. Last month I was off sick for a day and a half. Can my employer dock this from my wages?

Our Response:
This depends on your employer's policy so you will need to check your contract.Statutory sick pay (if you are elligible) is not payable until the 4th day of sickness.
SafeWorkers - 28-Mar-17 @ 12:02 PM
Hi guys, hope you can bring some light into this. I've been working for a big company for the last 18 months on a 35hr contract but i've done 40hr since day 1. My manager told me that he will get my hours sorted a month into my employment... because i work on comission as well i never questioned it until recently when i called HR payroll and they told me that i'm still on a 35hr contrat and that i was never paid extra for my hours. What is the best legal action i can take about it ?
Devo - 27-Mar-17 @ 4:05 PM
Steveo - Your Question:
Hi I am on a 40hr week contract but have worked at least 60hr weeks since December 15. I want to take holiday but they say they'll only pay me my contracted hours, is this correct?Thanks steve

Our Response:
Your holiday pay should be based on the average pay you received during the 12 weeks immediately before your holiday. Please see our article here for more information
SafeWorkers - 27-Mar-17 @ 12:36 PM
Bobbie Cottonsox - Your Question:
I am a salaried worker (working in the civil service), contracted to work 39 hours per week. I work nights - I work a week on, week off. On my week on I work 77 hours, on my week off nothing - for the two week period I therefore work 38.5 hours per week.We used to have to come in an hour early one night per week, to bring up the average up to it's proper 39 hours per week. A few years ago my employer (at local level) changed out rota so that we didn't have to come in the hour early, creating the current situation where we are officially working 38.5 hours per week.They now use the hour per week discrepancy as justification for not scheduling cover for us in the mornings - normally we would claim overtime if we are late getting off but we are not allowed, which would be fair enough if it wasn't deliberate and at short notice, and something we could agree to.We are also pulled in for compulsary training, again with the threat that we owe them hours, and if we don't come in we will have to pay back all the hours we owe.We all want to work the full 39 hours - we have e-mailed head office pointing out what's going on, they insist we are being paid correctly and our rota is a local issue. My question is, if they don't rota us on for our full hours, can they hold them against us?We feel they have deliberately left our rota short to give them more flexibility in their detailing of staff, as we are being made to plug the gaps in the mornings, and we are now having to come in on our days off to do training.

Our Response:
We don't have details of your contract, but if you are frequently working late into the morning/being asked to attend training outside of your normal shift and are not being paid for this (i.e the hours regularly average more than 39 per week) you should be able to take breach of contract action. There is more information on how to this in our guide here
SafeWorkers - 27-Mar-17 @ 10:38 AM
I have worked for my employer for 2 years, 18 hours per week.Last month I was off sick for a day and a half.Can my employer dock this from my wages?
Barbara - 27-Mar-17 @ 6:37 AM
Hi I am on a 40hr week contract but have worked at least 60hr weeks since December 15. I want to take holiday but they say they'll only pay me my contracted hours, is this correct? Thanks steve
Steveo - 25-Mar-17 @ 9:58 PM
I am a salaried worker (working in the civil service), contracted to work 39 hours per week. I work nights - I work a week on, week off. On my week on I work 77 hours, on my week off nothing - for the two week period I therefore work 38.5 hours per week. We used to have to come in an hour early one night per week, to bring up the average up to it's proper 39 hours per week. A few years ago my employer (at local level) changed out rota so that we didn't have to come in the hour early, creating the current situation where we are officially working 38.5 hours per week. They now use the hour per week discrepancy as justification for not scheduling cover for us in the mornings - normally we would claim overtime if we are late getting off but we are not allowed, which would be fair enough if it wasn't deliberate and at short notice, and something we could agree to. We are also pulled in for compulsary training, again with the threat that we owe them hours, and if we don't come in we will have to pay back all the hours we owe. We all want to work the full 39 hours - we have e-mailed head office pointing out what's going on, they insist we are being paid correctly and our rota is a local issue. My question is, if they don't rota us on for our full hours, can they hold them against us? We feel they have deliberately left our rota short to give them more flexibility in their detailing of staff, as we are being made to plug the gaps in the mornings, and we are now having to come in on our days off to do training.
Bobbie Cottonsox - 25-Mar-17 @ 6:14 AM
Jonesy888 - Your Question:
I work in retail on a 8 hour a week contract (i always do alot more), the store I work for are closing for two weeks to get a refurbishment and weve been told we wont get paid while the store is closed unless we use our own holiday allowance. Ive checked my most recent rota for when the store is closed and they have used my holidays (8 hours each week) which I havent agreed too and nor do I want to as I have events coming up what I need them for. Basically with my contract being 8 hours a week can my employer do this or is it their right to pay me regardless, any info or numbers I could contact to help me resolve it will be much appreciated as I dont know who to talk to. Thanks in advance!

Our Response:
Unfortunately there may not be a great deal you can do. Unless your contract says otherwise, your employer can tell you when to take your holidays. Your employer does however, have to give you two days' notice for every day of holiday they want you to take.
SafeWorkers - 21-Mar-17 @ 10:16 AM
I work in retail on a 8 hour a week contract (i always do alot more), the store i work for are closing for two weeks to get a refurbishment and weve been told we wont get paid while the store is closed unless we use our own holiday allowance. Ive checked my most recent rota for when the store is closed and they have used my holidays (8 hours each week) which i havent agreed too and nor do i want to as i have events coming up what i need them for. Basically with my contract being 8 hours a week can my employer do this or is it their right to pay me regardless, any info or numbers i could contact to help me resolve it will be much appreciated as i dont know who to talk to. Thanks in advance!
Jonesy888 - 18-Mar-17 @ 1:35 AM
I have been on a fixed salary for 7 years is this legal? I have a contract for 32 week a year
msmfb - 17-Mar-17 @ 3:01 PM
Saturnrider - Your Question:
My employer is going to withhold 12 days pay after working for the company 7 years. I will get the money on retirment or if I leave the company. I have been paid at end of every month after 7 years my salary is going to be paid on the 12th of every month is this legal

Our Response:
We don't have enough information about this to comment unfortunately. Your employer will need to gain the consent of all employees affected before making this change to your contracts. Usually a union rep or similar would be involved. You should contact ACAS if this has not happened.
SafeWorkers - 14-Mar-17 @ 10:31 AM
Slumminit - Your Question:
My contracted hrs are 9hrs and 36min per day (48hrs per wk over 5 days) I am a HGV driver, So the planners plan my day and route etc. Now on occasion I may do more or less than 9hrs and 36min. If I do more I get paid O/T but only when I have done more than 10hrs and 6min as they deduct 30min for break. For example - If I do 11hrs, I get paid for 10 1/2 hrs 1 hr OT.If I do a 7 1/2 hr day, I am still paid for 9hrs and 36min.So for instance, I have worked Mon 12hrs, Tue 12hrs, Wed 10hrs, Thurs 7 1/2hrs and Fri 7 1/2. Mon and Tue I gained 4hrs OT. Wed no OT. Thurs and Fri minus 4hrs as I worked less than my contacted hrs. But as I have worked less than my contracted hrs. I now owe the company 2hrs. So now I have lost that hr I had for OT and now owe an additional hr to get me level to now earn OT again.My question is, Are they allowed to do this or not?As I think its unfair.

Our Response:
You need to discuss this with your employer and check the terms of your contract. Your employer will be obliged contractually to pay your for agreed hours (48 per week) whether or not they are available. Whether the times the actual hours are worked are flexible depends on the terms of your contract.
SafeWorkers - 14-Mar-17 @ 10:18 AM
Hi there, I am currently employed on a 24hr per week contract, and most days the the company closes doors early meaning we all have to clock out and go home. This can amount to over 10 hours per month being lost from my wages. I have brought this up with managers but they say they only have to "offer" 24hrs, not that i will actually get them. Is this true? Despite having a contract, i cannot be assured of what ill earn at the end of the month. Thanks
Andy C - 13-Mar-17 @ 3:17 PM
M - Your Question:
Hi I went a took a job that required me to train in gas safe and oftec. I did not really want these courses but was made to sign up to a contract that implied if I left I would have to repay the whole course fees. I have left the company due to unforeseen circumstances, and the boss now wants all his money. I have no use for the courses and have been advised that I should not pay him back as these courses are for health and safety and I could not do the job required with out them. If so is this true as my ex boss is pursuing me for this.

Our Response:
No, if your contract says you should pay back training expenses if you leave within a certain period then that's what you should do. The employer has paid for this (albeit necessary) training, on the basis that you would be working for them as a qualfied person. If you leave, they have wasted their money.
SafeWorkers - 13-Mar-17 @ 2:27 PM
My employer is going to withhold 12 days pay after working for the company 7 years.I will get the money on retirment or if i leave the company .. i have been paid at end of every month after 7 years my salary is going to be paid on the 12th of every month is this legal
Saturnrider - 11-Mar-17 @ 10:41 AM
My contracted hrs are 9hrs and 36min per day (48hrs per wk over 5 days) I am a HGV driver, So the planners plan my day and route etc. Now on occasion I may do more or less than 9hrs and 36min. If I do more I get paid O/T but only when I have done more than 10hrs and 6min as they deduct 30min for break. For example - If I do 11hrs, I get paid for 10 1/2 hrs 1 hr OT. If I do a 7 1/2 hr day, I am still paid for 9hrs and 36min. So for instance, I have worked Mon 12hrs, Tue 12hrs, Wed 10hrs, Thurs 7 1/2hrs and Fri 7 1/2. Mon and Tue I gained 4hrs OT. Wed no OT. Thurs and Fri minus 4hrs as I worked less than my contacted hrs. But as I have worked less than my contracted hrs. I now owe the company 2hrs. So now I have lost that hr I had for OT and now owe an additional hr to get me level to now earn OT again. My question is, Are they allowed to do this or not? As i think its unfair.
Slumminit - 11-Mar-17 @ 9:45 AM
Hi I went a took a job that required me to train in gas safe and oftec. I did not really want these courses but was made to sign up to a contract that implied if I left I would have to repay the whole course fees. I have left the company due to unforeseen circumstances, and the boss now wants all his money. I have no use for the courses and have been advised that I should not pay him back as these courses are for health and safety and I could not do the job required with out them. If so is this true as my ex boss is pursuing me for this.
M - 10-Mar-17 @ 10:21 PM
Lollypopsx - Your Question:
I'm a carer on a zero hour contracts, I have been there on months working 16-18 hours per week, the past 4 weeks I've been get 10-12 hours a week I'm really starting to struggle to pay my monthly bills. I currently recieve child benefit, child tax and working tax but even that's not helping me cover my bills either. I always ensure I put in if there's any shifts that needs covering but there never ever is. I'm just wondering if there's any advice you could give to me. It's staring to stress me out majorly

Our Response:
Unfortunately on a zero hours contract, you cannot rely on a set number of hours per week. A genuine zero hours contract allows an employer to offer you work when it's available and enables you to accept or refuse that work. You could try talking to your employer and asking if you can be taken on as an employee with set hours?
SafeWorkers - 9-Mar-17 @ 12:06 PM
I'm a carer on a zero hour contracts, I have been there on months working 16-18 hours per week, the past 4 weeks I've been get 10-12 hours a week I'm really starting to struggle to pay my monthly bills. I currently recieve child benefit, child tax and working tax but even that's not helping me cover my bills either. I always ensure I put in if there's any shifts that needs covering but there never ever is. I'm just wondering if there's any advice you could give to me. It's staring to stress me out majorly
Lollypopsx - 8-Mar-17 @ 12:39 AM
Hi I've been employed for 5 years as a painterwith a big company and when they hired me they knew I didn't drive cars, only cherry pickers licence, but 5 years later they say I will have to leave or be payed offdue not driving, is this legal at all they knew I didn't drive when hired, all advice welcome
Paul - 7-Mar-17 @ 10:19 PM
I currently have a contract which is a permanent 22.5 hours but I work 10.5 hours overtime each week, when it comes to holidays though I am only paid for the 22.5, I have done this for 2 years coming up July. Do I have any rights?
Debbie - 7-Mar-17 @ 9:12 PM
HRC - Your Question:
Hi, I have recently started a new job, I contacted recruitment for written confirmation of my starting salary (this a large organisation that I had previously worked for therefore previous service can be taken into account when agreeing a starting salary) I provided a previous wage slip and received an email confirming my starting salary, I have since received a contract with the agreed starting salary. When it came to my first pay day I did not receive a payment, I contacted payroll who advised I would not receive my pay until a week later as paperwork was not processed on time therefore I would be added to a supplementary pay roll, I was also then informed that my actual starting salary would be £6000 a year less than I was initially informed! I'm wondering who I should speak to about this? And where I stand legally?

Our Response:
If you have an email and a contract confirming you're starting at a certain figure, your employer is in breach of that contract by paying you less. Contact HR/payroll and ask them to clarify. If you need to take it further, ACAS is a good resource.
SafeWorkers - 3-Mar-17 @ 2:37 PM
Hi, I have recently started a new job, I contacted recruitment for written confirmation of my starting salary (this a large organisation that I had previously worked for therefore previous service can be taken into account when agreeing a starting salary) I provided a previous wage slip and received an email confirming my starting salary, I have since received a contract with the agreed starting salary. When it came to my first pay day I did not receive a payment, I contacted payroll who advised I would not receive my pay until a week later as paperwork was not processed on time therefore I would be added to a supplementary pay roll, I was also then informed that my actual starting salary would be £6000 a year less than I was initially informed!I'm wondering who I should speak to about this? And where I stand legally?
HRC - 1-Mar-17 @ 9:58 PM
Hello I just started a new job and they have put me in 10 hours per month can any one tell me how this works cause I worked 10 hours straight and then I have to days off and my manager was asking why I don't get how this works.
Bazza - 24-Feb-17 @ 7:59 PM
Mr p - Your Question:
I am employed on a 20 hour contract, I have worked there for 3 years, and usually work over 30 hours (can't remember last time I did less) when I book holidays I only get paid my contracted hours so lose a lot of money s havent had a full week off in over 2 years. I have requested an increase in my contract but have been outright refused by !y manager, is there anything I can do?

Our Response:
Your holiday pay should be based on your average pay from the previous 12 weeks leading up to the date you take your leave. See our article on this here
SafeWorkers - 23-Feb-17 @ 10:23 AM
I am employed on a 20 hour contract, I have worked there for 3 years, and usually work over 30 hours (can't remember last time I did less) when I book holidays I only get paid my contracted hours so lose a lot of money s havent had a full week off in over 2 years..... I have requested an increase in my contract but have been outright refused by !y manager, is there anything I can do?
Mr p - 22-Feb-17 @ 12:23 AM
I've been in my current job for 15 months and have never seen or signed a contract but have applied for a new job and don't know how much notice I have to give?
Aliastra - 20-Feb-17 @ 11:31 AM
I started work 15/9/2016 my contract states 30hrs per week but i have only been given 20hrs work per week and thats all i get paid for. can i claim my other 10hrs per week which i havent been paid as my contract is 30hrs?
Daisy - 17-Feb-17 @ 8:50 AM
My boss made me sign a document stating that i must stay in their employment for 2 years, or pay the course fee back, and this was after I completed a course they put me on. there is nothing stating about this in my new contract. i want to leave for a better job but they are threatening court action if I refuse to pay it back. So my question is, can they do that?
Japes - 13-Feb-17 @ 9:08 PM
I have an email confirming my salary which includes an allowance which equates to 17% of my salary. The contract only states the basic salary and not the allowance. Can I insist that my contract of employment states the full amount. If my prospective employer refuses, how legally binding is the email.
Mk - 11-Feb-17 @ 8:23 AM
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