A contract of employment is an agreement between an employer and employee which sets out the rights and responsibilities required for the job.
The contract is formed when the employee accepts a job offer, as when you start work you will be deemed to have accepted the job on the terms offered by the employer.
All employees will have a contract of employment, whether it is in written or oral form, although employees are entitled to be given a written statement of the main terms and conditions within two months of the start of their employment. Having a written contract will reduce uncertainty as to the terms and conditions of the employment, and may reduce disputes that could arise at a later stage. It will also help both employers and employees understand their employment rights. If you do not have a written employment contract, you should speak to your employer or trade union representative. Employers and employees alike will be bound by the terms of the contract, until the contract is brought to an end, or until the terms of the contract are changed.
Most contracts will contain both express and implied terms. Express terms are explicitly agreed in writing, and may include, for example, information on pay, hours of work, holiday entitlement, sick pay arrangements, notice periods and disciplinary and grievance procedures. These terms may be contained within a dedicated contract, in an employee handbook, in a job offer from the employer, or through collective agreements. Employers should ensure that all employees are clear as to the terms of their contract, and as to what terms are legally binding, and which terms are not.
Terms may be implied into your employment contract, in that they will not be written down, but will be readily understood by all parties. Terms may be implied, for example, because they are so obvious that it is not necessary to write them down, or because it is assumed that such a term exists. They may also be implied by custom and practise, such as where arrangements are in place that have never been clearly agreed, but over time have become part of the custom of the organisation or business. There is no fixed time period that is required for an implied term to be considered custom and practice, but it will depend on a variety of factors, such as how seriously the term has been treated, how clear it is, and how long it has been in practice for.
The Courts have established that all employment contracts will contain the following provisions:
- to act in good faith towards each other
- a duty of mutual trust and confidence
- to take reasonable care to ensure health and safety in the workplace.
It may be necessary for amendments to be made to the terms of your contract. If this happens, your employer must give you the new information in writing within one month of the changes being made. If either you or the employer breach the terms of the employment contract, an action may arise for breach of contract.
For more information, contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau. Further guidance can be found on www.nidirect.gov.uk or by contacting the Labour Relations Agency on 02809032 1442.
Sian Fisher is an Information Officer with Citizens Advice.