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.

An employment contract is imperative in both a professional capacity but also for legal reasons. Every worker in the UK needs to understand their job role, responsibilities, pay, and hours.

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.

What is a Contract of Employment?

A contract of employment can be either written or verbal. It is a legally binding document or agreement between employer and employee, starting on day one of a job.

Sometimes, employers will use a written statement which is still legally binding but less extensive than a full contract. A proper contract will contain all the conditions of employment, such as hours, pay, responsibilities and holiday entitlements. Anything relating to the job and its responsibilities is known as the terms of the contract.

The contract, once agreed to and signed, stays in place until the end of employment. The only time it may become void is if it is updated and terms are changed. The new terms and conditions come into effect from the date a new contract is agreed.

See Also: Job Offer Withdrawn – A look at when a contract of employment is deemed to be formed in UK employment law.

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 employee handbook.

A contract of employment may refer to additional terms and conditions contained within the employee handbook.

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 pension scheme arrangements may be available.
  • Workplace policies and procedures which you must adhere to.

Before you sign your contract of employment, 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.

Different Types of Employment Contracts

Employment contracts can vary depending on the age of the employee, the job they are hired for how many hours they will be doing.

It is essential to understand your contract type and to be aware of its implications. Employers need to be clear on what they are offering employees.

Below is a list of the different contract types and what they mean for the employee.

Full and Part Time Contracts.

As an employee who is offered either a full or part time job, then your contract will reflect this. These are permanent contracts of employment.

Your contract will stipulate the terms of your employment. This means details such as hours, holiday and sick pay, breaks, and any expected overtime will be clearly laid out.

Employees must read their contracts carefully before agreeing to the terms.

Fixed Term Contracts

A fixed term contract is in place for an agreed length of time, or until a set task is completed. They are terminated once the task or timeframe has been completed.

All parties will have agreed to this when the contract was signed. Employees under fixed term contracts will have all the same rights and entitlements as permanent staff.

Sometimes, a fixed term contract might be renewed if the job is taking longer than expected.

Agency Staff Contracts

Agency staff contracts are made between an employment agency and employer. It is an arrangement to allow employers to cover short term staffing issues or execute projects requiring specific skillsets.

This type of contract means the employer pays the agency all wages, SSP, and NI Contributions for the staff member.

After 12 weeks, agency staff have all the same entitlements as the permanent staff such as working time, rest periods and annual leave.

Freelance and Contractor Contracts

Freelance workers and contractors are typically either part of another company or self employed. Those in self employment may have different rights than other employees.

An example of this is not being entitled to the minimum wage. Any contract should clearly define the terms so that everyone knows where they stand.

They usually handle their own National Insurance contributions and tax when they complete the annual self assessment.

Zero Hour Contracts

Zero hours contracts are employment agreements where the employee is not guaranteed a minimum number of working hours per week.

Employers sometimes use these when they need extra staff on an as and when basis. However, they are increasingly used as a default by some businesses for long term staff.

Zero hour contract employees have the same statutory employment rights as permanent members of staff. This includes holiday pay, sick pay, and maternity leave.

See Also:Different types of employment contract.

What’s in an Employment Contract?

An employment contract should contain the terms and conditions of the job an employee is being engaged to perform.

What a contract looks like and what is detailed within it can differ from job to job. Those in high end jobs will likely have a comprehensive agreement with a lot of reading to do. Others may have a very concise contract.

Here’s a list of the things you should look for and understand within your contract of employment:-

  • Personal details
  • Employer details
  • Title of contract.
  • Job description
  • Job Expectations
  • Salary details
  • Overtime Rules
  • Place of work
  • Contracted Hours
  • Details of Sick pay entitlements.
  • Holiday pay and entitlements.
  • Expected behaviours in the workplace.
  • Details of any company pensions or bonus schemes.
  • Details of any restrictive covenants.
  • Break entitlements
  • Maternity or paternity rights.
  • Employer duty of care policy.
  • Date employment will begin.
  • Agreed notice period.
  • Any additional clauses such as accepting client gifts.
  • Details of the review date.

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.

Read your contract thoroughly before signing. If there’s anything you are unsure or unhappy about, you can negotiate with your employer before signing. Remember, a contract is a two way document and it can be altered to suit both parties.

Employers cannot add any terms or clauses that go against UK employment laws. This includes statutory employment rights like minimum wage, SSP, holiday entitlements, or maternity leave.

Understanding Contract Terms and Conditions

It is common when dealing with contracts for employees to come across some jargon they may not understand.

In the world of employment law, sometimes HR uses language that staff are not too familiar with such as; express terms, implied terms and statutory terms.

Express Terms

Express terms refer to all the specifics included in the contract that the employee should be aware of.

This includes all aspects of salary, how they will be paid and how often and things such as holiday and sickness rights. These will be written down clearly for the employee to read and agree to and should leave no room for interpretation.

Implied Terms

There are some things a contract doesn’t need to include as this should already be obvious to all parties.

These are known as implied terms and can encompass things such as standards of behaviour expected in the workplace.

For example, there’s an expectation that no one will steal from the workplace. This is essentially an unwritten rule which if broken would constitute gross misconduct.

Statutory Terms

Anything that forms part of UK employment laws is referred to as the statutory terms of the contract.

This is where it is essential to check that nothing breaches the law such as pay entitlements and the right to rest breaks.

Workers should ensure that they receive the correct UK minimum wage for their age.

About Custom and Practice

Custom and practice is a term in employment law which refers to long term work arrangements, procedures, or practices which aren’t written in a contract.

Even if they aren’t included in the terms and conditions of an employment contract, they may be legally enforceable.

Examples of contract terms which may be enforceable under custom and practice rules include:-

  • Bonus or commission schemes.
  • Pay rises based on length of service.
  • Paid time off for certain holidays or events.
  • Leaving early on a Friday.

If a practice such as leaving early on a Friday was widely understood to be well established arrangement, and an employee was disciplined for doing so, they could be able to argue the right to leave early formed part of their employment contract.

Restrictive Employment Contract Terms

Restrictive employment contract terms are clauses which limit some aspects of an employee’s work related activity. This can mean when the employee is employed with the company and after they leave.

This can be a grey area for both employers and employees. Even when such restrictive covenants are in place. they aren’t always enforceable.

They are normally in place to protect the business and its data, but they cannot unreasonably disadvantage the employee.

A few examples of restrictive covenants include:-

  • Once an employee leaves they cannot contact customers for an agreed length of time.
  • A clause to stop you from working for a competitor for a set amount of time.
  • Being forbidden to poachemployees to start a new business.

When You Don’t Have an Employment Contract

An employment contract can be either written or verbal. Some employers work on the implied terms system where the conditions are obvious.

However, in terms of keeping everyone in the loop, it is far more professional to have a contract. You can approach your employer and ask for one to be drafted.

Instead of a contract, some employers opt for a written statement instead. This will be a shorter document with all the necessary information such as the pay structure. This will be less detailed than a full contract but with enough information to cover the necessary terms and conditions.

Terminating an Employment Contract

A contract is legally binding up until the day employment ends. In some cases, it may go beyond this point if there are restrictive covenants in place.

A contract may be terminated using a few different methods. Either party can terminate a contract as long as the correct notice period is honoured.


An employee may be dismissed by an employer for a variety of reasons. It might be due to poor performance, too many warnings, a change of staff structure or something else. 

The contract will detail the procedure needed for giving notice and anything else that is relevant to the dismissal.


There will be a set of procedures to follow in the event of an employee resigning from their job. These should be laid out in the contract or employee handbook.

The resignation happens when an employee decides to hand in a resignation and move on. This will require a notice period and usually a written letter or email to formalise the resignation.

Someone might resign to take on a promotion, a job with more money or to pursue a new career entirely.


Redundancy occurs when an employer needs to cut back on staff numbers for financial reasons, or due to business restructuring.

There are strict rules around employee rights when redundancies are being considered. This includes a consultation period, a financial settlement package, and paid time off to attend job interviews.

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


Do you need to sign a contract of employment?

It is not a legal requirement to sign a contract of employment. It can be agreed upon verbally or through implied terms. Sometimes, starting the job is enough to show you agree to the terms laid out in the contract or written statement. For clarity reasons though, it should be signed by the employer and employee.

What if my employer has lost my contract of employment?

You can request another copy of your contract if your employer has lost the original one. It should then be signed again by all parties.

Can a contract of employment be verbal?

A contract of employment can be verbal and not written. This isn’t necessarily advisable though as it leaves a lot of things up in the air. It is far more professional to have it written down so that employees can refer to it when required.

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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