In the vast majority of cases employees are bound by the terms of an employment contract. Even if you’ve not provided your employees with written terms of employment there is still a contract in place. The problem is that if written terms of employment have not been issued, or they have been issued but not signed by the employees it’s difficult to know exactly what terms have been mutually agreed and accepted. NB There is a legal requirement to provide new employees with terms of employment within eight weeks of taking up employment and they can seek compensation if you fail to issue the terms. So if you haven’t got them sorted out make it your priority.
This week we’ve heard a lot about junior doctors striking because they are objecting to the prospect of their terms being varied. Back in 2012 the government drew up plans to change the contract because it was “outdated” and “unfair”. When we say outdated the junior doctors’ contracts hadn’t been changed since the 1990s. Demands for services have increased so the people who work in these areas will need to be flexible to meet today’s more demanding requirements.
There are a number of different elements that are being proposed for change within the junior doctors’ contract. The main ones revolve around the detail of how much junior doctors are paid, taking into account weekend and night working. The doctors also argue that it impacts on patient and worker safety because they will be required to work longer hours.
To make their point, this week the junior doctors went on strike. Hospitals were forced to cancel 4,000 operations and thousands of appointments. It’s hard to align this with their alleged regard for patient care.
While talks have reached agreement in most areas, the main point of dispute remains the changes to weekend working. Junior doctors would lose their higher pay for Saturday working, but would keep the higher level of pay after 7pm on Saturday and all day Sunday. More strikes are planned if the matter is not resolved.
The junior doctors’ contracts were last changed in the 1990s. Things change so rapidly. It is no longer exceptional to work at weekends or on bank holidays. It’s a 24/7 world. Generally we advise clients to update and review their contracts every two to three years to ensure they stay up-to-date. Last year we did a big overhaul of our clients’ documents and it highlighted a number of areas that needed updating.
You really wouldn’t believe the amount of new legislation that comes into force every year. Over the last two years we’ve seen the introduction of Shared Parental Leave and Flexible Working. Case law also has a big impact – take the “holiday pay” cases, for example. Last year the big one was Lock v British Gas; and the European Court also created a stir when it found that workers with no fixed place of work start their working day for the purposes of the Working Time Directive from the moment they leave home (the Tyco case).
If your employees don’t have contracts it’s important that you provide them with one. It’s not just a legal matter, it’s simply efficient management. Set out your requirements so that both parties know what their rights and responsibilities are. By having a contract you have a written agreement between your business and your employee. Yes, you can have a verbal agreement but if there was ever a problem it would be a lot harder to prove your case. Clear terms in well prepared contracts give you a permissive framework to manage your business and importantly the terms are enforceable.
Many of the contracts we see have been snaffled from another business and topped and tailed with the current business owners’ name. They may refer to old out-of-date terms that have no relevance to today’s workplace. Retirement is a big one. With the introduction of shared parental leave old documents still relate to the old paternity leave that now doesn’t exist in the same way. While new legal provisions which replace the old terms will automatically be incorporated in to employees’ contracts, it is confusing if the physical contracts are not current.
Having up-to-date employment contracts are important and by doing so you have a good base which covers all areas. If your documents haven’t been changed in the last two or three years give us a call so we can sort this out for you.
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