An employment contract is an agreement between an employer and an employee; which sets out their employment rights, responsibilities and duties. These are referred to as the 'terms' of the contract. An employment contract can be made as soon as you accept the job offer, therefore meaning you accepted the terms offered by the employer. Having a written contract could cut out later disputes and help you understand your employment rights. The contract binds you and your employer until it ends; by giving notice or until the terms are changed in agreement between you and your employer.
There is a term referred to as 'flexibility cause', where your employer reserves the right to change the terms and certain conditions. However your employer's changes won't be unreasonable, as many contracts have an implied term of mutual trust and confidence, requiring them to act honourably. There may be times when either you or your employer wants to change some terms of the contract; this can't be done without each other's agreement. If you wish to make a change to one of the terms, speak with your employer and explain why. If they want to change something, they should consult you, explain their reasoning why, and be open to alternative ideas you may put forth.
If you or your employer has broken one of the terms set out in the contract, this is referred to as 'breach of contract.' If you believe your employer has broken one or more of the terms, check your contract to be sure. If there has been a breach of contract, talk with your employer directly and try to resolve the issue, before making any further decisions.
If you do decide to take legal action, you can do this through an employment tribunal or through a civil court. However it is cheaper and quicker to go through an employment tribunal, but going through a civil court may get you more compensation. One thing to keep in mind is that your employer may be prompted to take out a counter claim against you if they feel they have one. If you are the one that breached the contract, your employer should come to you directly to try and resolve the issue. If there is a suffered financial loss for your employer because of you, they may make a complaint for damages against you.
Employment contracts are some of the most important business documents you will ever sign in your working life, and yet they are written in a deliberately convoluted and confusing manner, which often makes it difficult to get the clear points of what you're signing up for. Take your time, and read and re-read every contract, but pay special attention to the clauses, to ensure you understand them. Employers can put some unreasonable bits in here, so it pays to know what each one means. Here are some of the more common employment contract clauses so you know what to look for. And managers: if you want these points enforced, be sure to include them in your UK business documents!
Changes in Circumstances and Personal Information
This common employment contract clause forces all employees to inform the employer when their personal circumstances change. This may be accompanied by a list of circumstances covered by the rule.
Dress Code for Uniforms
If employees are required to wear a uniform, this can be used to enforce how they should be worn. This can include stipulations regarding cleanliness and how they physically are to be worn - though it has to be subject to religious or personal circumstances which can prevent employees from complying.
This employment contract clause means that employers can make employees who have handed in their notice, or been dismissed serve out the remainder of their time at home. They will be on full pay, but with the advantage to the company that they are held to the contractual agreements (e.g: confidentiality and exclusivity clauses still remain) and are available to be called back to work at short notice.
Office Conduct/Dress Code
Sometimes, the employer will outline exactly the kind of conduct and dress code they expect when employees are in the office - this would go here.
If the employer chooses, inter-office romantic or sexual relationships can be discouraged here. This is especially common when involving two employees of different seniority for the conflict of interest it would create. This clause in a contract should then detail what action will be taken in instances where the rule is broken. Possibilities include re-deployment or firing of one of the employees.
There are a number of different restrictive covenants that can be enforced, and largely relate to restricting the employee's competition to his/her employer when he/she leaves. This can include area-covenants, which prevent employees working for competitors, non-solicitation covenants which prevents the poaching of clients from the former employer and non-solicitation of staff covenants, which prevent the former employee dealing with his/her former fellow employees for a defined time after termination of employment.
Restrictions on Outside Employment
This is one of the more common employment contract clauses. It usually prevents employees taking on any additional work during their agreed hours of employment, and requires written permission from the employer for work outside the agreed hours. This is generally backed up by a note that permission will not be granted for work that competes with the employer's business or that which will affect the employee's work performance.
Rights to Intellectual Property
This contract clause can be used to ensure employees involved in creative production waive any right to intellectual property, and clarifies that the employer owns any copyright or other IP right. This can be open to interpretation, so should be accompanied by a definition of what the employer classes as intellectual property
Use of Protective Clothing
This won't apply to the majority of offices, but this contract clause is designed to ensure that protective clothing and equipment is worn to comply with health and safety regulations. This section may also outline the possible disciplinary action to be taken in the even of a breach.
Keep an eye on these employment contract clauses, and feel free to seek legal advice if you don't understand the practical application of any part of your UK business documents. It's too important to get wrong!