14 Jun 2023

Best practice for employment contracts

A written, signed and up-to-date contract gives you a high degree of certainty about your employee’s responsibilities and rights. Sometimes, though, team members’ roles may no longer reflect what the written documents say, or you may not be able to track down a contract at all. You may also find that an employee has simply put the contract away in a drawer unsigned. This creates scope for legal disputes about what terms the person has agreed to.

Your duties

By law, you must give all new starters a written ‘statement of employment particulars.’ Since April 2020, this requirement applies to workers, not just employees. This means there are various terms you must put in writing on or before the person’s first day. You can meet this requirement by issuing an offer letter or contract containing (as a minimum) the mandatory information. You must also inform individuals in writing of any changes to the particulars within 1 month of the change. This requirement applies, for example, if you change the person’s hours, pay, or place of work, including if you approve a flexible working request.

Implied duties

In addition to the terms that you include in the contract, some terms will be ‘implied’ into it and will be binding even though they’re not written down. Employees have an implied duty to follow reasonable instructions. These are some other examples of implied terms:

  • You have an implied duty to provide safe working conditions.
  • Both you and the employee are subject to a duty of mutual trust and confidence. If you act in a completely unreasonable way, you will breach this term and the employee can resign and claim constructive unfair dismissal.
  • Various rights are incorporated into employment contracts by law. These include the right to the minimum wage and a minimum notice period and the right for a woman to receive equal pay to a man doing work of equal value.
  • You may have reached a collective agreement with a trade union and these changes will automatically be incorporated into employees’ contracts.
  • A right may have become incorporated into the contract through ‘custom and practice.’ For example, a zero-hours worker who regularly works fixed hours might claim they have become entitled to those hours regardless of what their contract says. Or if it has become customary to pay a Christmas bonus, or enhance redundancy claims, you may face claims if you withdraw this benefit without employees’ _agreement, even though it is not written into their contracts.

Verbal changes

If you agree on a contract change verbally with an employee, an employment tribunal may also decide this is binding. For example, you agree to give an employee a pay rise, but they hand in their notice before you write a letter confirming this and do your next payroll. If you withdraw the pay rise, they could rightly claim that you are obliged to pay them a higher amount during their 3-month notice period. You made a verbal agreement to increase their pay and if you don’t honour it, this is a breach of contract and an unlawful deduction from wages.

Unsigned contracts

If an employee fails to sign their original or amended contract, it’s likely they just forgot. Sometimes, though, they may later claim they objected to a term or a change, in which case it may not be enforceable.

Avoid future problems

So many of the issues that employers face, such as unfair or constructive dismissal cases, dealing with fixed-term workers, or needing to change the terms of an employee's contract could easily have been avoided – if only a few simple clauses has been included in the contracts.

The HR Branch can help remove your worries about mistakes in employment contracts. We can ensure you are using the right clauses to protect your business in the future.

Get in touch

If you want to change an employee’s contract but don’t know where to start, then get in touch and we can help. We will ensure your contracts are up-to-date, compliant and ready to use, saving you problems further down the line.