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Happy holidays or new beginnings?

For those of you on your sun loungers employment law may not be currently uppermost in your mind. For others however the need to generate seasonally relevant comments on employment law issues continues unabated. Just like Christmas Parties in December and Pre-nups in February, as the bank holiday weekend looms, a review of the weekend's business press will tackle that thorny issue of whether staff can be forced to work Bank Holidays. This is not however one of those pieces.

What does seems clear is that holiday reflections in August can be matched by a spate of job hunting in September with Autumn being a traditionally strong period for recruitment. As someone who spends much of her time dealing with the fall out from employment disputes, and without wishing to dampen anyone's job seeking enthusiasm, a little more time at the start might avoid some of these problems.

Finding a new job is a bit like a new love affair. Certainly in the genuine excitement of finding a new job - even senior executives can simply rush to sign up. After all no-one is ever going to refer to this again right? Wrong. They are legally binding contracts, not wish lists. Sign in haste and you may find when things go wrong, or you want to leave, that you do not like what you have agreed to. Obviously(!) there is no substitute for taking legal advice before you complete the negotiation process, however, particular pitfalls include:

  • Whether there a probationary period in the contract? If there is then you could find yourself leaving a secure job, taking a risk and finding yourself dismissed with one week's notice. It takes two years to generate most statutory employment rights to say nothing of accrued contractual and pension benefits. Don't give them up too easily.
  • Is the proposed notice period too short or too long? You may find if difficult to secure a new role if your employer insists on holding you to, say, a six month notice period. If your notice period is too short then this will leave you financially exposed in the event of dismissal.
  • Does the contract contain restrictions which could prevent you from working post employment with the new employer? These restrictions can, and are, enforced by the Courts. If they are too wide then they can be challenged but this is not straightforward and can be expensive. Better to negotiate more reasonable restrictions at the start. You could also, for example, ask for an assurance that any restrictions will not apply if you are made redundant.
  • Make sure that any entitlement to bonuses and participation in other types of incentive scheme is clearly spelt out in the agreement. Vague promises and no express written entitlement generally means no contractually binding entitlement which means potentially no extra pay!
  • Finally, if you are joining an overseas business then check which country's employment law is stated to apply. The fact that you are a UK national based primarily in the UK may not necessarily mean you are covered by UK employment law and vice versa. Employment protection in Kentucky or Dubai can be quite different from that in Bradford for example.

All of these pitfalls can be avoided if they are raised upfront and, specifically, before the agreement is signed. Individuals may fear that an offer will be withdrawn if they "make a fuss". From my experience this is unlikely to happen certainly at a senior executive level. Many employers will expect negotiation and do not necessarily expect the candidate to accept the first offer they are given. After all if you cannot promote and protect yourself how can you promote and protect your new employer!

And for those of you still wondering about bank holidays....well the answer is it depends. There is legal entitlement to receive 5.6 working weeks a year but this may or may not include bank holidays. The answer, as always, is in the detail which in this case means the contract either oral or in writing. A formal agreement that the employee is willing to work on Bank Holidays is always best. Now get back to that Pina Colada ... September will be here soon enough.

For further information on employment contracts, holiday entitlements or any other employment related queries contact Catherine Wilson onĀ 01274 377659.