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There is no legal requirement for an employee to have a written contract of employment, although having something in writing can make it easier to understand what your contractual obligations and rights are. Many employment contracts tend to be verbal, especially in small businesses.
What are My Contract Terms?
Your contract of employment will be made up of terms from a variety of different sources.
If you don’t have a written contract, it’s likely that you and your employer entered into an initial agreement verbally, having discussed the main terms at the interview or when you accepted the job role.
One common source of the terms of a contract would be your staff handbook and manuals, as well as policies and procedures you may find on your internal intranet site or paper copies issued to you when you started your job.
These documents should specifically state if they are not intended to form part of your contract. They may simply provide guidance as to how your contract should be carried out – for example, the dress code and breaks.
A large part of your employment contract is dictated by the law in England & Wales. These provide employees with certain rights, such as minimum notice periods, minimum holiday entitlement, limits on how many hours you can work for, and minimum wage. These terms are generally the minimum that you can expect to receive if you have not negotiated an express term in your contract to cover them. They can nearly always be improved upon by agreement with your employer.
Another significant implied term in your contract is that of mutual trust and confidence between you and your employer. This term is often the basis of your working relationship with your employer, and if that relationship breaks down, it can result in a serious breach of the contract.
Finally, your contract can change naturally over time based on the actual work you do, and how you do it on a day to day basis. This is known as custom and practice, and comes into effect when you have been doing the same process for a long period of time, long enough to show that it has now become part of your contract to continue in that way.
How Do I Find Out what My Contract Terms Are?
There are obviously difficulties to a contract that has been made verbally. Establishing what the terms are may depend on the recollections you and your employer have, and potentially the recollections of other witnesses, such as your colleagues.
The law in England & Wales requires that you are given a ‘statement of certain specified terms’ within two months of starting your job. This statement is not necessarily a contract of employment in itself, and in many cases it’s simply a statement of what has already been agreed orally or in writing. This statement is particularly useful when there is no written contract, as it can form persuasive evidence as to the major terms of your contract.
What if I Have Problems with a Written Statement?
If you’re not happy with the terms set out in the written statement, you can try to informally speak to your employer to resolve the issue. If you still cannot reach a mutually agreeable solution, you can raise a grievance about your issues. In certain situations, you may issue a claim in the Employment Tribunal.
Your employment contract can often undergo constant changes and updates. If you feel your employer is trying to change your contract terms without your consent, or has done so already, you should seek legal advice.