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Is an unsigned contract of employment enforceable?

Contracts of employment form the basis of the working relationship between an employer and an employee. But if the contract remains unsigned, does that give either side free rein to change its provisions?

The short answer is no, although each case will always depend on its circumstances. Just because a contract of employment is unsigned - or even unwritten - does not mean that the terms of employment have not been agreed between the two parties.

A contract usually starts - and is therefore enforceable - when an offer of employment is accepted. By starting work, an individual effectively asserts that he or she has accepted the employer's terms and conditions.

Avoid ambiguities

To prevent the possibility of complications later, it's good practice for employers to iron out any possible ambiguity by following up on unsigned contracts early in an employment relationship.

Similarly, an employee who doesn't agree with terms and conditions should demonstrate this by writing to the employer when the contract is issued, explaining which parts they don't agree to and why.

If they are to start work, or continue working for their employer, they should also explain they are doing so 'under protest'. Negotiations should follow over terms and conditions to find a mutually acceptable agreement.

Acas publications and services

Acas has detailed information on Contracts of employment, including a step-by-step guide on how to establish a New employee's contract, and Useful templates for letters, forms and checklists.

Acas experts can visit your organisation and develop terms and conditions of employment and help you minimise the potential for disputes. See Contracts and hours: how Acas can help for more information.

Related practical training is also available on Contracts and terms and conditions, Recruitment and for new employers, Employing People - A Practical Introduction.

For free, impartial advice and guidance visit Acas Helpline Online.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects area for more information.

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