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Employment contracts: rights and responsibilities
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Abstract

Having a written contract can reduce the likelihood of disputes between employers and employees, and will help employees understand their rights

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AN employment contract, or ‘contract of employment’, is an agreement between an employer and an employee which sets out their employment rights, responsibilities and duties. These are called the ‘terms’ of the contract.

An employee is entitled to a written statement of their main employment terms within two months of starting work.

The employment contract is made as soon as the job offer is accepted. If an employee starts work it will show that they accepted the job on the terms offered by the employer, even if they don't know what these are. Having a written contract could reduce the likelihood of disputes with an employer at a later date, and will help the employee understand their employment rights.

The employee and employer are bound by the employment contract until it ends (usually by giving notice) or until the terms are changed (usually in an agreement between the employee and employer).

If an employee starts work it will show that they accepted the job on the terms offered by the employer, even if they don't know what these are

Terms of an employment contract

Contract terms can come from a number of different sources. For example, they could be:

■ Verbally agreed;

■ In a written contract or similar document;

■ In an employee handbook or on a company noticeboard;

■ In an offer letter from the employer;

■ Required by law – for example, the employer must pay an employee at least the national minimum wage;

■ In collective agreements;

■ Implied terms.

If there's anything in a contract that the employee is unsure about, or which is confusing, they should ask the employer to explain it.

It should be made clear what is a legally binding part of the contract and what is not. The legal parts of a contract are known as ‘terms’. If either the employee or employer breaks a term of the contract, the other is entitled to sue for breach of contract.

Written statement of employment particulars

An employee who has been working for an employer for one month or more has the right to receive a written statement of employment particulars.

This must be provided by the employer within two months of the employee starting, even if they are going to work for them for less than two months. The written statement will set out some of the main employment rights.

Principal statement

The employer must provide the employee with some of their employment details in one single document. This is known as the ‘principal statement’ and must include:

■ The employee's name and the employer's name;

■ The job title or a brief job description;

■ The date when the employment began;

■ The pay rate and when they will be paid;

■ The hours of work;

■ The holiday entitlement;

■ Where they will be working (if they are based in more than one place it should say this, along with the employer's address);

■ Sick pay arrangements;

■ Notice periods;

■ Information about disciplinary and grievance procedures;

■ Any collective agreements that affect the employment terms or conditions;

■ Pensions and pension schemes;

■ If they are not a permanent employee, how long the employment is expected to continue, or, if they are a fixed-term worker, the date the employment will end.

The letter offering the job, or the employment contract, could be the principal statement or full written statement. There is no need for an employer to give a separate written statement if everything is covered in either of these. The employer can give photocopies from the staff handbook or other documents that contain the details of the employment. If they do this, the employee should still receive a written statement telling them what details the photocopies contain.

If the employer does not offer one of the terms that must be set out in the written statement (such as a pension scheme), they must say that it is not offered in the written statement. The employer cannot just leave it out.

The written statement must be clear and correct. An employee cannot be dismissed for asking for a written statement.

Locum positions

A temporary agency worker may be contracted with an agency under a ‘contract for services’. The agency, as an employment business, will be obliged to provide the employee with a written contract.

What to do if you have a problem

If you have a problem you should first try to resolve it with your employer.

BVA members can contact the BVA legal helpline for advice before, or after, talking with their employer.

Another excellent source of advice, which includes a facility for an employee to get a personalised statement of their employment rights and responsibilities, is the Directgov website, www.direct.gov.uk

Other useful sources of information

Contract of employment template

The BVA has developed a contract of employment template available in the publications and resources area of the BVA website for members to adapt for their staff or on which to base their own contract. More information is available at www.bva.co.uk/contracts

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