Employment contracts

An employment contract serves to set out the terms and conditions under which you work for your employer, so it's important to know your rights and responsibilities regarding it.

25th April 2018

A written employment contract is a legally binding document agreed by both the employee and employer that states the agreed terms. The contract can set out the hours of work, salary or hourly rate, as well as other more complex details that govern the employment relationship.

A written employment contract is a legally binding document.

Contractual disagreements

If an employee believes the employer is breaching the contract and wants to resolve this, they should try to settle the matter internally. If this doesn’t work, they can contact the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Services (ACAS) for advice and assistance. They could also seek help from a representative trade union official or the Citizen Advice Bureau.

Disagreements or problems with contracts could warrant a claim to the county court or, where the employment relationship has ended, an employment tribunal.

Contract of employment

An individual may be legally considered an “employee” where they have an obligation to personally perform work for their employer, have a mutuality of obligation between themselves and their employer and the employer has a sufficient element of control over their work.

In any new employment a contract exists between the employer and the employee. The contract of employment does not have to be written, but the employee is entitled to a written statement of employment particulars within two months of starting work.

Contract for services

Where a worker has a “contract for services” they are more likely to be classified as delivering a service and therefore not an employee, regardless of how the two parties refer to their working relationship.

Agency workers are often provided to businesses under a “contract for services” and may not themselves be employees of that business.

However, in some circumstances the agency workers may be employees of the agency. In such a situation the employment agency is legally obligated to provide workers with a written statement of the terms of their employment.

Continuous employment

Employees are required to work for specified time periods in order to gain certain statutory rights, for example in order to bring an ordinary unfair dismissal claim an employee needs to be continuously employed for a period of 2 years.

employees are required to work for specified time periods in order to gain certain statutory rights

Part-time permanent employees, regardless of contractual hours, accrue their period of continuous employment in the same way as full time staff.

It is possible for a series of fixed-term contracts to count as a single length of continuous employment, with timescale measured between the start of the first and end of the last period. Whether this applies will ultimately be a decision of an employment tribunal.

Fixed term contracts

A fixed term contract is a contract that will expire either upon a fixed date, upon the completion of a particular task, or upon the occurrence (or non-occurrence) of a specific event. An employer can opt for a fixed-term employee rather than a permanent employee for many reasons, including:

  • A position of uncertain length, often due to funding uncertainty (contracts ordinarily in this instance are yearly rolling).
  • Maternity or long-term sickness cover.
  • Secondment cover.

If, upon expiry, an employer does not renew an employee’s fixed-term contract, this will amount to a dismissal. Therefore, the employee, if they have the required length of service, could bring an unfair dismissal claim and it would be for the employer to demonstrate the dismissal was for one of the potentially fair reasons set out in section 98 of the Employment Right Act 1996.

Any such unfair dismissal claim would be assessed in the same manner as an unfair dismissal claim brought by a permanent employee.

If, upon expiry, an employer does not renew an employee’s fixed-term contract, this will amount to a dismissal.

Flexible working

Flexi-time or flexible working is when workers are able to set their own working times, usually within a core hours policy – for example ‘clocking in’ between 8am and 10am and ‘clocking out’ between 4:30pm and 6:30pm. Some employers even run on a ‘total flexible working’ pattern without adhering to a core hours system.

Job sharing

A job share arrangement allows employees with external responsibilities – i.e. dependants or additional part time roles – to find a flexible alternative to a standard position. Usually made up of two part-time employees sharing one full-time role, a job share arrangement gives both the job share employees and the employer the advantage of constant cover.

The arrangement can work in a number of ways. For example, it could be either a morning and afternoon split, or a three-day week with a one-day handover.

Part-time employment contracts

A part-time employee works less than the employer’s full-time hours, which is usually around 35 hours a week. Often, part-time workers will have dependents or other responsibilities outside of work that restrain their amount of available work time, though there are many reasons for working part-time.

The same employment rights apply to part-time workers as those that apply to full-time workers, regardless of the hours worked. This includes the right to:

  • Be paid equally to comparable full-time employees;
  • Not be excluded from meetings or training days by virtue of their part-time status;
  • Claim holiday entitlement pro rata to the same effect as any full-time workers;
  • Be entitled to the same opportunities as any full-time employee regarding a career break, contractual and or family/dependent leave;
  • Not be considered expendable simply by virtue of their part-time status if cutbacks and redundancy measures are introduced.

Regardless of contractual hours, full-time or part-time, an employer should consult staff before changing any agreement that is in place.

Regardless of contractual hours, full-time or part-time, an employer should consult staff before changing any hourly agreement that is in place. If an employer tries to force an employee to amend their hours to full time to meet demand, this could give rise to an employment tribunal claim.

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