The consumer-watchdog Which? reports that at least 5.1 million people in the UK fail to read their employment contracts properly. Moreover, at least two million people do not have a written employment contract.
From 12th to 21st February 2010, Which? asked 4,075 members of the British public aged 16 or above about their employment contracts. 32% of them (excluding the self-employed) only skim read their contract (26%) or didn't read it at all (6%). Based on a adult population of 48.5 million, this equates to between 5.1 and 6.8 million people (using a 95% confidence interval). 12% of respondents (again, excluding the self-employed) don't have a written contract. This equates to between 2 and 2.9 million people. Moreover, only 3 in 10 employees received their contract before starting their job, and 9% didn't get a contract until they'd been in the post for six months or more.
Employment contracts: your rights
Your employer must provide you with a "statement of terms" within 2 months of starting work. A statement of terms is not synonymous with an employment contract, however, since it need only contain the following terms:
- your name and the name of your employer;
- your job title and a brief job description;
- the date you started work;
- the date 'continuous employment' began;
- if your job is not permanent, the period for which the employment is expected to continue or, if it is for a fixed term, the date when it will end;
- your salary and when you will be paid (e.g., weekly or monthly);
- the address or addresses of the places where you work;
- the number of hours you must work and when you must work them;
- details of any collective agreements (e.g., negotiated by a trade union);
- holiday entitlement;
- sick leave and pay;
- disciplinary and grievance procedures;
- pensions and pension schemes.
An employment contract usually contains additional clauses, including restrictive covenants which may restrict your ability to work for a competitor after your employment ends.
As Which? chief executive Peter Vicary-Smith advises: "Always read your contract before signing it and check that the terms - such as salary, holiday entitlement, notice period and redundancy procedure - are in line with what your employer agreed at your interview. Dotting the 'i's and crossing the 't's could pay dividends in the long-term. People who fail to take the time to read their employment contracts properly may have no idea what they've signed up to and could be in for a shock in the future."
** Getting legal help & advice **
Alternatively, you may prefer to speak with an employment law solicitor. You can find a solicitor in your area for free via solicitor matching services, which can also help you to understand the best course of action for your situation and whether you are ready to hire a solicitor.