Advanced People Management

Your Contract of Employment

Your contract at Work (What they don’t tell you)

The written Contract of Employment, your Company Handbook, any established long-term Working Practices and any Company Letters or Other Documents related to the employment relationship all form your Contract of Employment.


The contract of employment, as outlined above, is the foundation stone of your working relationship with your employer. It sets out what your employer expects from you and what you can expect from your employer. The most important two documents are the written contract of employment and the company handbook (aka, staff handbook, company handbook or manual, company directory or any number of other titles). If you get into difficulties at work it is very important that you get full copies of these documents; if you have not got them already. The contract of employment differs from all other types of contracts, in that, other contracts are agreed or reached after some negotiations or bartering have taken place. With contracts of employment because little bartering has taken place power generally resides with the employer, so in actual fact what you have is known theoretically as ‘inequality of bargaining’, in other words, and in simple language, you just sign and agree to it because you want the job, no negotiation takes place.

That said, it is important to remember that as an employee you are in a position to hold your employer accountable for contractual shortcomings under the four types of terms incorporated into every contract of employment;

  • Statutory terms: are imposed by law such as the minimum statutory notice period and minimum wage. This terms can be varied as United Kingdom law(s) change
  • Express terms: these are terms that have been specifically written into the contract by the employer, you agree to these terms when you sign the contract.
  • Implied terms: these are terms that are not set out in writing but are considered to be too obvious to be recorded, for example your employer and you have a duty to work safely.
  • Incorporated terms: are things that have been put into contracts from work rules or collective agreements, usually derived as a result of collective negotiations.

Generally the contract of employment means that both parties have to act reasonably towards one another and respect the contract of employment. This means both parties treat each other with respect and dignity. So for example, if your team leader, supervisor or manager, shouts and swears at you while you are at work in front of other people, your employer is in breach of contract, you can and should challenge this type of behaviour.

From a HR perspective varying contracts of employment is both straight forward and complicated. Practically both parties can change a contract of employment if both parties agree to the changes. So for example, you might wish to change your working pattern, from 9am – 5pm Monday to Friday to 8am – 6pm Monday to Thursday, and if your employer agrees to this, then that change is a negotiated change to the contract of employment and probably a permanent change, that’s the straight forward bit. The big question in HR around contracts is ‘can my employer change the working relationship without my agreement’? The answer is yes, as long as the change affects everyone (in a team, a section, department, or pay grade) and not just one person. So for example if your boss approaches you at work and says; just you need to change the working hours or days you work and no one else; then call us! Making changes that only affect one person is a very complicated and legally dangerous thing for the employer to do, especially if the change is not written into the contract of employment, generally they cannot force change onto just one person. Changes could be around your duties, your hours, shift arrangements, the days you work, holidays, pay, demotion and any number of other things. Remember this golden rule, if it just you and it is not in the contract, then that is not equal treatment! That’s the key to challenging changes in contracts of employment.

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