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Should my employment contract be in writing?

Published 02 August 2022

Putting pen to paper to sign a contract when you land a new job is a great moment.

But, how concerned should you really be if you are not handed a printed contract and asked to sign on the dotted line when you first start work for an employer?

We know the importance of a written contract of employment and the significance of it in the working relationship between you and your employer.

A contract can be agreed verbally or in writing and it will still be legally binding on the parties.

There is a common and mistaken belief that all terms of employment have to be written down in a formal document. It is, of course, best and preferrable if the contract is in writing.

However, an employment contract begins the moment you start work for an employer, even if nothing is written down.

In some circumstances it could start earlier, for example if you accepted the job offer verbally or in writing.

Both you and an employer should act in a manner as not to breach the contract, as doing so can have costly and legal repercussions for either.

You should ideally be given a contract detailing your terms and conditions within a few weeks of starting a new role. If not, you should request it and it should be provided to you.

The contract is a legally binding agreement between both parties setting out implied and explicit terms and conditions for the working relationship.[1 cited 2.8.22]

Whether you are legally classed as an employee or worker you now have the right to a written document summarising the main terms of  your employment. [2 cited 2.8.22]

Employees typically are a permanent member of staff and usually have an open-ended contract with an employer. A worker falls somewhere between the duties and expectations of an employee and that of a self-employed individual [3 cited 2.8.22]

Those legally classed as workers do not have the right to written terms if they started the job before 6 April 2020.

The legal term for the document summarising the main terms of employment is the 'written statement of employment particulars'

You are entitled to receive this document from the first day in your new role. It includes information such as pay and working hours.

Given the information contained in the statement of employment particulars it is easy to confuse it and wrongly refer to it as an ‘employment contract.’

But, as required by law, the employment contract is broader than just the written terms [4 cited 2.8.22]

The legal parts of a contract are known as ‘terms.’ An employer should make clear which parts of a contract are legally binding.

Contract terms

Contract terms could be:

  • In a written contract, or similar document like a written statement of employment.
  • Verbally agreed.
  • In an employee handbook or on a company notice board.
  • In an offer letter from the employer.
  • Required by law (for example, an employer must pay employees at least the National Minimum Wage).
  • In collective agreements - negotiated agreements between employers and trade unions or staff associations.
  • Implied terms - automatically part of a contract even if they are not written down.

Implied terms

If there is nothing clearly agreed between you and your employer about a particular issue, it may be covered by an implied term - for example:

  • Employees not stealing from their employer.
  • Your employer providing a safe and secure working environment.
  • A legal requirement like the right to a minimum of 5.6 weeks’ paid holidays
  • Something necessary to do the job like a driver having a valid licence.
  • Something that’s been done regularly in a company over a long time like paying a Christmas bonus.

Regardless as to whether or not a contract of employment is in writing, you will still have statutory rights provided by law.

This gives you a number of right that include, but are not limited to, the following: to be paid at least the National Minimum Wage [5 cited 2.8.22], not to be unfairly dismissed [6 cited 2.8.22] and protection against discrimination [7 cited 2.8.22]

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For employment law advice or if you are affected or want information and support by any of the issues in this article please give us a call. 

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