What are employment contracts?
An employment contract or ‘contract of employment’ is the agreement that is made between an employer and a new employee that states a host of issues. Most importantly, it lays out he rights of the employee in their new role, explaining what they will be expected to fulfil and why. This contract is legally binding, and although does not have to be written down, has to be agreed in some format between the two parties.
One of the fundamental characteristics of employment contracts are the terms set out in them. As far as the employer is concerned, they live or die by these. If something is not detailed in this section, then under law, the employee does not have to carry out this task. Accordingly many employment contracts will state that the individual is required to carry out ‘any reasonable activity’, as a way of covering their backs. The majority of things discussed in the terms of a contract are elementary issues like; wages, start date, finish date, duties, responsibilities, misconduct regulations, and so on and so forth.
Breach of contract
Breach of conduct is a terms that you will often heard spouted around, whether in a TV courtroom drama or eavesdropping a conversation at work. It is actually a very serious offence and can result in severe penalties including legal action or dismissal. What some people fail to realise, is that is can occur on both sides of the fence, by either employer as well as employee.
The breach of an employment contract by an employer is relatively common and occurs in a number of different ways. A common example is through the pressure put on staff to volunteer for overtime, often threatening their position if they decline the offer. If a set amount of hours are outlined in the terms of the contract then they are in breach and can be penalised. Other ways include; asking to perform duties not laid out in the contract, bullying, lateness of pay and not consulting you when changing a contract. All of these constitute a breach in contract and can be perused in a number of ways.
Firstly as an employee you should try and resolve the matter with the perpetrator. Approach them about the matter to see if you can eradicate the breach. If this fails you may be forced to either contact higher management or begin legal action. However, in this instance be very careful, as it will almost certainly be impossible to resume your employment after this stage.
Employees can also be found in breach of contract, again if they fail to adhere to the terms and conditions laid out. This is far more common and can occur a number of ways. On the whole this will be due to a minor issue such as lateness, failure to report for work, or misconduct, and will almost always result in either a formal warning or a disciplinary hearing. However, occasionally it can become more serious, especially when money is involved. For example, professions such as life guarding, army soldiers or airplane pilots require a good deal of training, of which the employer is likely to pay. To compensate for this, it will be agreed in the terms of the employment contract that the employee must work for a substantial period of time to repay the cost of this. Therefore, if the employee does terminate their employment before this date, then they will be in breach and will be ordered to repay the outstanding costs.
Finally, we come to changes in employment contracts. These are amendments made that alter working conditions and can result from any manner of activity. Again, it is important to dispel the myth that this can only occur from the employer, the employee can also request a change if they provide sufficient reasoning. The only condition is that both parties must again be notified and agree to the terms.
The employer may make changes to a contract for a host of reasons. It may be a change to the employee’s pay or weekly hours, due to either an upturn or downturn in the business. It could also be the location of work; a frequent amendment in chains where they have several outlets in one country.
Employees can also request a change in employment contracts, stating their reasons to their immediate superior. This is more likely to come from a personal change or feelings of discontent. It could be the request for an improved salary or a longer working week, especially if times are hard outside of work. More commonly however this will be provoked by a major event such as pregnancy or long-term illness of a partner. In this instance an employee will need to request time off or a reduction to part-time hours.