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 which is often not included in a contract of employment is usually contained in your employere 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 sick leave and sick pay 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 your employment contract and alter the working relationship you have agreed to, 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.

Further Reading

30 thoughts on “Understanding Your Contract of Employment in UK Law

  1. terry payne says:

    I work 40hours cleaning different coop stores but do 5 to 6 hours travel every day to each site only get paid for time in store and 1 hour travel time do not stop for breaks as each store is over 1 hour apart

  2. vj says:

    i have wor over 18 years and we were given 43 hours extra goodwill for bank holiday now new management want to take it off me with any notice can they do so

  3. S.E.B says:

    Hi, I normally work 9 hours shifts and I’m given two 30 min breaks, recently I’ve been working 7 – 7.5 hour shifts and I’m only entitled to a 15 min break, I have questioned this with my employer and they’re trying to convince me that I am only entitled to 15 mins and not 20 mins as the law states they can give me a minimum of 15 mins rest break? Also, I am being given far less than 11 hours rest between days/shifts. I have also brought this up with my employer as i’ve been getting as little as 8 hours rest between work days/shifts, they have told me that they have made an agreement with some union or body that 8 hours is acceptable as the 3 hours difference is given back by having a day off. Is this allowed? I work at a supermarket, they aren’t open 24 hours so I can’t understand how this is allowed.

  4. Dashey says:

    I have severe anxiety and due to the virus I have now been asked back to work. Apparently they can’t allow me to work form home even though some people are. I have a note from my doctor saying hours recommend to work, as I work 830/5pm Will my company only pay hours I do as I have a doctors note stated hours to work at present I still get my full pay

  5. RenauldClare says:

    I was introduced to Herbal HealthPoint and their effective Multiple Sclerosis treatment. I immediately started on the protocol, it relieved symptoms significantly, even better than the medications I was given. Visit ww w. herbalhealthpoint. c om. After I completed the treatment, I recovered from the horrible disease.

  6. E says:

    My employer has every staff member give up their Saturday nights from 19:00-23:00 once a month. If they hurry the job up, they can have us out for 22:00-22:30 sometimes. If this happens they then subtract the extra hours pay off, is this legal?

  7. Babs says:

    I started a new job last Monday, I went off on the sick on Wednesday I was making myself ill having to go to work as I live with my mum who’s got severe copd and on oxygen 24/7 and I’m scared I come home with the virus I would never forgive myself,I was also having to travel on public transport I was breaking down at work and had no concentration am I entitled to ssp?

  8. Confused and Bemused says:

    I am a perm teacher a head of department, i was bullied by a colleague at work and due to added stress have been on sick leave, signed off unfit by GP. I want to return to work, but have been told that my job is being covered by a cover teacher and when I come back I won’t be doing my job but doing any cover and then covering another teacher who goes on maternity leave. I do not teach the subject that they want me to fill in. I don’t understand how they can take my position away. Please any advice would be helpful.

  9. Marty says:

    I work for the Highways I work 40hrs a week every forth week I’m made to go on call which starts at 4pm ends at 730am Monday to Friday then on Friday start 4pm and finish Monday morning at 730 am I’m I entitled to stand down time??

  10. D says:

    Hi I work in res care within education , if we break up for a term holiday our employee makes us work our 49wwekly jours within that week , and we lose our day off ? Plus some shifts we finish at 22-15pm and have to start against 07:am ??

  11. Stevie says:

    I am paid 4-weekly, should I have a 4-weekly rota? At present I receive one weeks notice of my shifts, sometimes not even that.

  12. Nickname says:

    Hi good evening I’m looking for advise according to our company I’m a 45hour week worker I’m recieving 1.25 annual leave each month adding up i m working 6 days a week leave workout is straight 15 working days include Saturday’s that gives you 2and half weeks is this correct

  13. Archie says:

    Parking permit at work i work 6am till 8.50am then back 3pm till 6pm parking is to be paid forbfrom 9am till 5pm so i would pay partime price as dont pay before 9am but now paying on cintracted hrs can i be my ade to pay

  14. Captain RB says:

    Hello, I got tupeed over to a new company in April. For the last 3 months, I have been working 60hours a week, which I don’t mind, my new facilities manager has made a rota where I only work 37.5 hours instead. My question is, do I have to agree to this, or can I keep doing 60hours??

  15. Robby says:

    I’d like to know if I have signed an “opt out agreement” for the 48 hrs per week, does this mean they can send me any where they choose and expect me to leave at 05h30 in the morning, get to site for 08h00. Work 8 hrs, then travel another 2.5 hours home, thus being a 12 hour day, BUT… ONLY PAY FOR 8 HRS? I’m having to do this 5 days a week, declaring I’ve worked 40 hours on my time sheet, but actually I’ve done 60plus with travel. I don’t have a fixed place of Work either.

  16. Danni says:

    I work in a care home we was suppose to to be paid on 28th it’s now 30thnot in our banks the company won’t tell us anything. Can they do this ??

  17. Holmsey says:

    Good Morning, I am looking for a little advice, I work from 8.30am – 5.30pm with an hour unpaid lunch (12.30-1.30), 40 hours per week actual working time. Over the summer months I need to drive clients to and from the airport, over weekends and out of the 8.30-5.30 working period.I don’t get paid for this over time but get the hours back in lieu – 1 hour for 1 hour. Should I be getting time and a half back i.e after the 40 hours worked, 1 hour overtime should be 1 hour and a half ?? Look forward to hearing from you, Thank you

  18. Ice king says:

    Hi I worked on an ice cream van for 12 hours then packed in. Went back and done another 17 hours. Left for somewhere else I’ve not received a penny am I entitled to any payment the job was advertised as 8.21 an hour. Cheers

  19. Nickname says:

    The statements about what an employer must legally ensure are misleading. There are caveats to each of these. For example 24 hours in each 7 could also be 48 in 14 . Also11 hours between working days can be less for some workers and compensatory rest can be used to make the difference. The night shift comment is also tje strictest interpretation for dangerous work.

  20. Mum says:

    My son has worked on an 8hr contact but the last 12 months he’s been working 30hrs over 5 days. But his employment says he will only get holiday pay for his contacted hours, surely this is wrong, I thought you would acure extra holidays? Mum

  21. None says:

    Employers are trying to change our work hours after 5 years of starting @ 6:45 & finishing @ 3:15 ,,We are not agreeing with this ,What can we do ,We have no Union in work for protection against a bully boy Manager ?

  22. Leah says:

    Hi, I have recently been having a problem at work. I suffer with a health condition to my stomach which also links with my bowels. I have been sick a few times from work and now my temp manager has chosen to not grant me overtime for a month as it always has been. However now she has allowed me to have overtime but only on a day off and she has stated I can not work a long day which is a regular shift following an overtime shift or vise versa. I feel this is targeting me as I have explained many times of my health and they do not seem bothered until I am sick. I have always worked overtime and have my own pattern of completing overtime with normal shifts. Because she has allowed me overtime but only on a day off I see this as not allowing me to any as she already knows I prefer days off to rest. I feel this is now forcing me to work days off as I need overtime. I don’t know what to do and now I want to leave my job as I do not see my normal hours beneficial without the extra shifts.

  23. bam bam says:

    Job advert asked for a Centre Superintendent to supervise cleaners etc I applied and got the job. Training was identified in my first staff appraisal and then in all of them up to 2011. I never got the training. like for like work was turned down because supvision was not in my job description. the training was a supervisor course. Then they told me I didn’t supervise. Job i was doing for 6 years. What can I do

  24. MM says:

    I am an agency worker l drop ill at work and my employer asked me to go home and less than 48 hours l was disengage from work, what should l do?

  25. Tus says:

    Job accepted after offer for role in savings team. On the Friday afternoon before my first day on Monday, the HR team called to say that the training for the saving team will not happen until they get the number of people required for the two week training. I was asked to turn up on Monday to get a two day training for the credit card team. They said I will work in that dept until the training for the role I applied for starts in about five weeks. I was ok with that until I met with the savings team manager today. She said that it most likely I will remain in the credit card team. I made it clear that I did not apply for the credit card team job and it was misleading advertising the savings role through a reputable recruitment consultancy. Should I speak to HR or the recruitment condultancy about this?

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