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Understanding Your Employment Contract

By: Dave Howell - Updated: 22 Feb 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]
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
My contract states that I do 38 hours but I am expected to do more (an extra hour a week). Is this allowed as I am a salaried employee so am not paid for that additional time.
Ali - 10-Feb-17 @ 12:41 PM
Hi I'm contracted to 16 hours per week in November I was given a extra 15 hours I've been waiting for my new contract this month I been under paid by over £600 it's been 10 days since pay day and there messing me about saying was just a bit of overtime even though I'm still doing these hours is it true if you work these hours for 6 weeks or more by law it becomes contracted hours.
Lisa - 9-Feb-17 @ 8:16 PM
Hi I'm just after some advice my company are trying to make me work a week in hand two years after me staring wich I have all ready done when I started there saying there doing this Jue to them not being able to sort people's wages out in time of payment
Don - 1-Feb-17 @ 11:11 AM
I have been working on a zero hours contract for nearly 2 years now. As I am coming up to 2 years and have been working constantly on average 40+ hours a week would I be eligible to acquire rights and ask for a full time contract.
Rob - 28-Jan-17 @ 12:04 PM
I'm contracted to 40 hours a week but am doing less as work has gone slack should I still be paid my 40 hours
Claire Hampshire - 24-Jan-17 @ 1:28 PM
I have a 20 hour week contract but work approx 60 hour per week.. resulting in me receiving only half of my holiday pay entitlement.. is this right.
Peter - 21-Jan-17 @ 10:23 AM
My husband signed a contract which states he is to work 24 hours a week. But ever since starting at the company,he's worked no more then 18 hours. This was over Christmas & now we are into January,he's doing less then contracted hours. Plus he does not have a copy of his contract. I would like to know what rights he has please
Mrsmorg16 - 21-Jan-17 @ 12:26 AM
MG - Your Question:
Hi I have been working for a company just over 2 years now. For the past 14 months or so I have progressed onto different role. My current contract does not reflect my current role and at the same time im planning arrangements to leave the current company im working with. Will this be an issue for future reference as all roles & responsibilities were agreed verbally. Please advice, thank you

Our Response:
Any prospective employer will ask your existing employer for a description of the job you do and how well you do it. They may also want to know details of your salary, holidays, absenteeism etc. The fact that your current job description is slightly different to your original role and contract should not matter. You may find that any promotions etc are detailed in your contract as an amendment anyway.
SafeWorkers - 20-Jan-17 @ 12:29 PM
Hil - Your Question:
My contracted hours are 10.00-15.00. My employer demands we start 15mins before. Is this legal? Thank you

Our Response:
Not if it's not in your contract. It's fair however, for an employer to expect you to be ready to start work when your contract states. So for example, if you need to get out of your car, walk to a building, put a uniform on etc, that may not form part of your contract hours.
SafeWorkers - 20-Jan-17 @ 12:23 PM
Hi i have been working for a company just over 2 years now. For the past 14 months or so i have progressed onto different role. My current contract does not reflect my current role and at the same time im planning arrangements to leave the current company im working with. Will this be an issue for future reference as all roles & responsibilities were agreed verbally. Please advice, thank you
MG - 19-Jan-17 @ 11:06 AM
My contracted hours are 10.00-15.00. My employer demands we start 15mins before. Is this legal? Thank you
Hil - 19-Jan-17 @ 9:52 AM
anonymous - Your Question:
I have been with my company for over three and a half years - I have never been given a contract or written statement - they have now presented me with a contract but have changed a number of the verbal agreements I had with them including my agreed days odd - it was agreed I have two Saturdays off per month now the contract states we are only allowed either one monday or one saturday per month the rest of the days off will be one other weekday and a sunday - as I have not yet signed the contract - would I automatically be bound by the new contract terms or would I still be under my verbal agreement.as I have not yet signed the new contract - I have been informed if I continue to work at the job for over 28 days and have not yet signed the contract it is automatically signed. is this also correct?- what can I do in regards to the change of my agreed days off?

Our Response:
You've been working for the company for over three and half years under conditions agreed verbally and with no other written agreement. You can realistically be expected to assume that the conditions you've been working under, form part of your contract.
SafeWorkers - 17-Jan-17 @ 10:52 AM
I have been with my company for over three and a half years - i have never been given a contract or written statement - they have now presented me with a contract but have changed a number of the verbal agreements I had with them including my agreed days odd - it was agreed i have two Saturdays off per month now the contract states we are only allowed either one monday or one saturday per month the rest of the days off will be one other weekday and a sunday - as I have not yet signed the contract - would I automatically be bound by the new contract terms or would I still be under my verbal agreement...as I have not yet signed the new contract - I have been informed if i continue to work at the job for over 28 days and have not yet signed the contract it is automatically signed... is this also correct?- what can i do in regards to the change of my agreed days off?
anonymous - 16-Jan-17 @ 10:06 AM
I'm on a part-time contract of 24 hours per week with my employer but was only given 16 hours for last week without any notice can I sue for breach of contract ?
Mrviperx - 14-Jan-17 @ 8:19 PM
jonnyf - Your Question:
My employment contract states that although I am expected to work bank holidays, I will receive time and a half pay for bank holidays. This year new years day landed on a sunday, I worked the monday which was a bank holiday, but my company are refusing to pay time and a half, as are paying the new years day as a bank holiday. Is this a legitimate practice?

Our Response:
Do you normally work Sundays? If your workplace was open on the Sunday and your employer chose to pay that day as a bank holiday, then they are within their rights to do so depending on the exact wording of your contract. Employers are not obliged to give their employees the day of on bank holidays.
SafeWorkers - 13-Jan-17 @ 2:27 PM
My employment contract states that although I am expected to work bank holidays, I will receive time and a half pay for bank holidays. This year new years day landed on a sunday, I worked the monday which was a bank holiday, but my company are refusing to pay time and a half, as are paying the new years day as a bank holiday. Is this a legitimate practice?
jonnyf - 13-Jan-17 @ 2:09 PM
I work for a company and I'm only on a 4 hour contract but I work easy 30+ hours a weeks I was just wondering is it fair that I was to go on holiday I only get 16 hours all year?
Bobbie - 12-Jan-17 @ 5:26 PM
sarahlou - Your Question:
I have been working with my employer since September 2016 I was told the job would be 32 hours a week sometimes I work more but sometimes I work less should I still get paid the 32 if I dont work them? I havent got a written contract as of yet it was just a verbal aggreement my work is only a small company of 8 people your input would be appreciated.

Our Response:
Ask for a contract. You should have one by now. If you took on the role on the basis that it was 32 hours per week and that's what you're contracted to do, then that's what you should be paid.
SafeWorkers - 11-Jan-17 @ 12:25 PM
i have been working with my employer since September 2016 i was told the job would be 32 hours a week sometimes i work more but sometimes i work less should i still get paid the 32 if i dont work them? i havent got a written contract as of yet it was just a verbal aggreement my work is only a small company of 8 peopleyour input would be appreciated.
sarahlou - 10-Jan-17 @ 5:13 PM
zoonie - Your Question:
Hi I have worked for 6 days a week for a year and my contract is only 3 days a week but due to the nature of the work I do I have to work 6 days due to business demands am I entitled to ask my employer for a contract to reflect this

Our Response:
You can ask for a contract to reflect the hours that you're doing but at this stage your employer does not have to grant your request. You should not have to work the extra days on a regulary basis if your are only contracted to work 3 days per week either.
SafeWorkers - 10-Jan-17 @ 11:07 AM
hi i have worked for 6 days a week for a year and my contract is only 3 days a week but due to the nature of the work i do i have to work 6 days due to business demands am i entitled to ask my employer for a contract to reflect this
zoonie - 9-Jan-17 @ 11:01 AM
hi, i work for a company in london but i am based from home, our contract hours are 9-5. they only pay for time on jobs. they dont count travelbetween jobs as work, i could travel to my first job for 2 hours, an hour between jobs and hours home, being out the house for sometimes 14 hours a day. should i get overtime pay, atleast for travel between jobs?
mr bee - 8-Jan-17 @ 5:30 PM
I work for a world wide comapny which is very stress full and demanding , I'm full time and on the books and I'm contracted to do 40 hours work a week Because we travel all over the region some times up to 4 hours each way , my regional manager is demanding we take a 1 hour lunch break unpaid and 1 hours travel a day unpaid but my contract states a 40 hour week We are not allowed to drive our vans for private use and we are on a tracker So the minute we start our van up we should be classed at being at work , nothing in my contract about the travel time and 1 hour lunch break in a one hour day
Dan - 5-Jan-17 @ 8:16 PM
steve - Your Question:
I have been employed by the NHS for over 6 years. Myself and three colleagues have been told to expect a meeting with a senior manager who will ask us to sign a new contract with another company who have recently been awarded a contract to supply soft facilities management services to our NHS trust. Do we have to sign this contract and work for a private company as we all have contracts to work for the NHS. There is nothing I can see in the contract that would force us to cease our employment with the NHS and move to another company. Thanks.

Our Response:
Your trade union or employee representative should have been fully informed and consulted about this transfer, so should be able to give you plenty of information on this. Assuming this a TUPE transfer your new employer will take over your contracts and should maintain all your existing terms and conditions of employment, holiday entitlement, period of continuous employment (i.e your start date is the same as before the transfer). If the new employer doesn't uphold your terms of employment, they are in breach of contract. As an employee you can refuse to work for the new employer but this is the same as resigning so you won't be able to claim unfair dismissal or redundancy pay. If the new employer's terms are worse than before, you may be able to resign and claim unfair dismissal.
SafeWorkers - 5-Jan-17 @ 10:13 AM
I have been employed by the NHS for over 6 years. Myself and three colleagues have been told to expect a meeting with a senior manager who will ask us to sign a new contract with another company who have recently been awarded a contract to supply soft facilities management services to our NHS trust. Do we have to sign this contract and work for a private company as we all have contracts to work for the NHS. There is nothing i can see in the contract that would force us to cease our employment with the NHS and move to another company. Thanks.
steve - 4-Jan-17 @ 12:08 AM
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