If you’re working for someone (which means you are an “employee”), you’ll always have an employment contract with your employer. A contract refers to an agreement where an employee’s rights, responsibilities, and duties along with the employment conditions are mentioned. All these are collectively known as the ‘terms’ of the contract.
Even when you don’t have a written contract, there’s still a contract between you (the employee) and the employer. And this contract exists since you’ve agreed to work for your employer while your employer has agreed to pay you for the work that you’ll do.
Though a majority of employment contracts are in writing, they could be verbal agreements too. Oral contracts, which are especially common in small businesses, have the same legal authority as their written counterparts. However, they’re much harder to prove. That’s because establishing your terms of employment would depend on the recollections of your employer, yourself, and probably other witnesses like your colleagues.
If you’ve got a written contract, it will offer more certainty with respect to your status of employment and make it easier to resolve disputes, if any.
How do I find what my contract terms are?
In the absence of a written contract, a variety of sources would make up your terms of employment. To begin with, the law in England and Wales would dictate a significant part of your employment contract. This will provide you (as an employee) with certain rights like the national minimum wage, restriction on the number of hours you can work, minimum holiday entitlement, and minimum notice periods.
Your employer may have a staff manual or handbook, or issue paper copies where the company’s policies and procedures are written, or use the company’s internal intranet site to share them. Unless expressly stated otherwise, these documents are intended to form part of your contract. While some may have extensive guidelines as part of your contract, others may simply mention how your contract needs to be carried out, say, for example, rules related to the breaks, dress code, etc.
Is there a way to find out what my contract terms are?
In case there’s a verbal contract between you and your employer, establishing your contract terms would be difficult. However, according to the law in England and Wales, all employees are entitled to ask for a written statement from their employer that provides them with specific information related to their job. You can request for this agreement within two months of the date of starting work.
In case your job duration is less than a month, you aren’t entitled to a written statement. But you can still ask for it even if your job finishes before the expiry of the stipulated two-month period. For instance, if your job lasted for just six weeks, you can still request the statement in the two weeks after you leave.
This statement isn’t necessarily a contract of employment in itself. In most cases, it’s just a statement of what has been already agreed verbally or in writing. Yet, this statement could be particularly useful when you’ve got no written contract, as it can form convincing evidence regarding what the major terms of your contract are.
What if I’m unhappy with the written statement?
To resolve the issue, you can talk to your employer. If you’re still unable to find a mutually agreeable solution, you can make a claim (under specific circumstances) in the Employment Tribunal.
Over time, your employment contract can undergo changes and have updates naturally based on the actual work you do and the way you do it on a daily basis. This is called ‘custom and practice’ and comes into effect when you’re engaged in doing something for so long that it naturally becomes part of your contract to carry on in that way. However, if you believe your employer is trying to modify your contract terms unlawfully without your consent or has already done so, you should seek legal advice immediately from an experienced employment lawyer.