Get savvy: An intro to employment contracts

Starting a new job can be daunting and exciting, especially if it’s your first full time position. While you should of course respect your workplace and adhere to all of its rules and regulations, remember that a contract of employment is a two way deal, and you can question and adjust certain stipulations without having to blindly sign the first document that’s placed in front of you.

Here are a few things that you should watch out for.


Probationary period


You will most likely be joining a new company on condition of passing a probationary period. For new graduates this will often last for three months, and during this period you can be asked to leave the company for little or no reason, and with a shortened period of notice (often a week).

Make sure when reading through the contract that you have the same rights as your employer – if they can terminate the contract in the probation period at a week’s notice, you ought to be able to as well.


Termination causes


While it’s common for contracts to allow there to be little or no reason for you to be laid off during your probationary period, you should think hard before signing a contract that will allow your employer to terminate for no cause in the long term. Also check the length of your notice – at least a month is normal – and ensure that this applies to both you and your employer.


Additional employment


It is often a stipulation of a contract that you not engage in any other employment (be this within work hours or outside of them) without the employer’s permission, and that your relationship with the company is exclusive. While this is normal, if you already have a part time or freelance job in the evenings or at the weekend make sure you notify your employer and obtain permission for this before you sign the contract. Otherwise you’ll be inadvertently in breach of the contract from the moment you sign.


After your time with the company ends


Across various fields, from manufacturing to recruitment, companies want to keep their trade secrets to themselves. This essentially results in a clause preventing you working in the same – or even a similar – field for up to years after you leave the company. This is an extension of the exclusivity clause, and is one to watch for if your skills are in a specific area, as it can severely limit future career prospects.


Holiday and leave stipulations


Check how much holiday allowance you get. While there is a statutory minimum, different industries have their own standard, whether this be the minimum or a few days more.

Also check any restrictive clauses on when you’re allowed to take this holiday. Some employers will have a specific couple of months when you’re expected to take time off, while others will stipulate that your boss chooses their holiday first and you must work around this. If you’ve already booked a holiday before starting employment, your boss ought to allow you to take this.


Freelance work


If you’re contracting yourself on a freelance basis, there are a few other things to consider. How and when you’re going to be paid is important, with a time limit on this from the point at which the work is submitted.

Also pay attention to the status of your intellectual property. What of your work does the company own, at what point do they own this and to what extent does their ownership of your ideas extend? This is more flexible in a freelance contract, so is good to strictly define.


See our blog on how to negotiate your job contract.