Understanding Your Contract of Employment in UK Law

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 a job offer, a contract of employment comes into effect. This can be an oral agreement or a written document.

employee and employer discussing a contract of employment.

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 Contractual Information – Employee Handbooks

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.


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.

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.
  • Have 11 hours of rest between each working day.
  • Are allowed 24 hours rest in any given seven days – usually taken as the weekend.
  • Get a break of at least 20 minutes if you work longer than six hours.
  • 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 in our specialist guide which will help you understand this legislation.

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