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Contracts: beware the temptation to cut and paste terms

Contracts of employment are legally binding agreements between employer and employee. They can be made up of both oral and written agreements, but it's widely accepted that it's good practice to have something down in writing. Either way, employees are entitled to a 'written statement' setting out the main terms and conditions of employment within two months of starting work.

Putting a contract in writing minimises the risk of misunderstandings further down the road. It's confusion about terms that are often behind breakdowns in workplace relationships and employment tribunal claims.

That's not to say that a written contract can't create its own misunderstandings. Exactly what is set out in writing needs to be carefully considered and each term checked as being appropriate to an individual's role.

Taking shortcuts by cutting and pasting terms from standard contracts has led some organisations into difficulties. Provisions mistakenly copied into contracts are as legally binding as any other - and can usually only be changed with the agreement of both parties.

In one recent case, a firm inadvertently inserted a salary far greater than they had intended into their written terms. The mistake was only identified after the job offer had been accepted and work had started. When the firm refused to pay the stated salary, the employee successfully brought a claim to an employment tribunal for unauthorised deduction of wages.

Acas provides help and guidance on a range of issues related to contracts and hours and can visit organisations to reach practical solutions to their contractual questions. Acas runs several training courses on Contracts and terms and conditions to give managers, supervisors and HR professionals the skills and knowledge they need to steer through the key issues.

Visit the Acas Training and Business Solutions area for more information.

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