Although it is not a universal practice, many employers require employees to sign an employment contract at the time of hire. Employment contracts may be short or long and detailed. Longer contracts may address a variety of topics including health benefits, code of conduct, vacation, sick leave and internal complaint or grievance procedures. In addition, it could cover employee behavior after an employment relationship has ended, with non-compete provisions that set a period of time during which the former employee cannot get a job with a competitor. It could also address what an employee is allowed to do with proprietary information.
It is certainly true that prudent employers make sure they have a comprehensive employment contract for employees to sign that cover many of these areas. Likewise, when presented with a written employment contract, employees need to make sure they take the time to read and understand the provisions they are about to sign to. A recent study conducted in the United Kingdom however revealed that many workers are not doing that. The spokesman of the consulting service behind the study expressed surprise at the study’s results.
A total of 1,000 employees were polled to determine whether they had taken time to read the entirety of their employment contract. Of those asked, only 0.6 percent indicated they had done so. Ninety three of the employees responded that they had read part of the agreement. Nine hundred and nine employees said they either did not remember reading the contract or just chose to not read it.
While this study surveyed employees in another country, it is quite possible that the results could be the same in British Columbia. This is a significant problem for employment relationships as a misunderstanding over contractual terms can lead to litigation which could have been avoided had both parties started the employment relationship with an equal understanding of the terms of the contract.
For employers, it is important to give employees time to review contracts and to ask for clarification or feedback. If the agreement is particularly complex or lengthy, it is advisable to give the employee an opportunity to seek legal advice on the contents. If the employees understand their obligations well before the employment relationship commences, the risk of acrimonious (and costly) litigation over contractual terms later can be diminished.
For employees, it is important to take the time available to review the contract and seek advice on parts of it you do not understand. Ensuring that you have a clear understanding of the expectations under the contract is bound to set you up for more success in the future.
The lawyers at Overholt Law LLP are experienced in drafting employment contracts for employers in a wide variety of workplace settings and can advise employees with respect to the terms of their contacts as well. When faced with issues pertaining to these contracts, we recommend taking time to consult with a lawyer to prevent or minimize the chance of other issues arising in the future and to set up the employment relationship with the best chance of success.