Law guide: Workplace

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Employment contracts

Employment contracts

What is an employment contract?

A contract of employment is an agreement between an employer and an employee. Your rights and duties, and those of your employer, are called the 'terms' of the contract.

The contract doesn't have to be in writing, but you're entitled to a written statement of the main terms by the time you start work (in England, Wales or Scotland) or within two months of starting work (in Northern Ireland).

The contract is made as soon as you accept a job offer, and both sides are then bound by its terms until it's properly ended (usually by giving notice) or until the terms are changed (usually by mutual agreement).

The employment rights you have will often depend on whether you are classed as an employee, worker or self-employed. This depends on the type of contract you have with your employer.

For more information, see our 'Employees, workers and the self-employed' section.

Written statements

If you are an employee (or a worker in England, Wales or Scotland), you must get a 'written statement of employment particulars' setting out some of your main terms. In England, Wales or Scotland, your employer must give you this by the time you start working for them. In Northern Ireland, it must be given to you within two months of starting work.

The statement will not amount to a contract of employment unless the parties agree to this and sign it to confirm that the stated terms are correct.

The statement must include such details as (not exhaustive list):

  • The identity of the parties
  • Start date and date that continuous employment with the employer began
  • Job title or brief description
  • Expected duration (for temporary or fixed-term contracts)
  • Place of work
  • Whether you will be working outside the UK and details of pay and benefits whilst abroad and terms regarding your return to the UK
  • Pay
  • Hours of work
  • Holiday entitlement
  • Sick pay arrangements
  • Notice periods
  • Information on pension schemes
  • Details of any collective agreements that affect the terms of your employment
  • Information about disciplinary and grievance procedures

If the terms of the contract change, your employer must give you the new information in writing within one month.

What to do if you don't have a contract of employment

If you're an employee, you automatically have a contract of employment as soon as you accept a job offer. What you may not have is a 'written statement of employment particulars' setting out your terms of employment.

If you're not given this, or if it's wrong or unclear, or if you're dismissed for asking for it, you should first try to sort it out with your employer directly. If you have an employee representative (for example, a trade union official) they may be able to help. Ultimately you may be able to make a claim to a tribunal.

Being dismissed for asking for a written statement will be automatically unfair.

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