Spotting Employment Contract Red Flags: A Guide for Employees and Employers

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Spotting Employment Contract Red Flags: A Guide for Employees and Employers

Often in our enthusiasm to secure a new job, we choose to ignore or overlook potential red flag issues around the terms and conditions of the employment offer. But mutual trust between employer and employee is essential for a harmonious working environment and there is often no going back after getting off to a bad start.  


For both employer and employee, a good start includes the signing of a contract whose terms and conditions have been agreed to by both parties. Although the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) does stipulate that written particulars of employment should be provided to the employer, there is no legal obligation for a written contract to be in place. 


Red flag number 1: The contract  

If there is an unwillingness on either side either to furnish a contract (employer) or to sign a written agreement (employee), this is an immediate red flag. A counter-signed, written agreement with copies provided to everyone is essential in setting the tone for the relationship going forward. 


Red flag number 2: Unfair Ts&Cs 

Employees should pay attention to clauses in the contract which may constitute unfair practice. These may include unreasonable or excessively restrictive non-compete or restraint of trade clauses preventing the employee from pursuing their line of work with other companies after termination of employment. It may be that clauses around remuneration, increases and benefits are vague, leaving employees open to future exploitation. As an employee, never be forced into a shotgun signature, and allow yourself time to go through the contract thoroughly before signing. Employers can avoid future misunderstandings by explaining, in detail, all the terms of the contract to the employee. 


Red flag number 3: Unilateral changes to employment Ts&Cs 

With a written contract in place, it makes it impossible for an employer to make changes to working conditions, including employee benefits such as leave and bonuses and other stipulated Ts&Cs. Any changes must be by mutual consent, so any that are made unilaterally by an employer are not allowed. Similarly, if an employee deviates from the contract’s Ts&Cs, is consistently late, does not observe company policy and procedures as laid out in the contract, the employer has recourse to legal action by following disciplinary processes. When either party flouts the Ts&Cs of the contract, this is a red flag. 


Seek legal advice 

Navigating labour law and employment best practices is complex for employers and employees alike. In order for all parties to be protected and for the workplace to be safe, harmonious and, of course, productive, if in any doubt, or if any of these red flags sound familiar, consult an expert labour lawyer and ensure the smooth operation of your business at all times. 


For more information contact Hammond Pole Attorneys 

Brendan Michie – BrendanM@hammondpole.co.za  


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