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Ask the Expert (Employment Contracts)

Is there such a thing as the “perfect job”? With the job market as it is, many workers simply feel lucky to have employment. 

Workers who find themselves without employment often jump at the opportunity to work. Little (or no) attention is paid to the pile of documents presented on hire. In fact, employees too frequently sign employment contracts without reading them let alone giving consideration to the long-term consequences. 

Viewing an employment agreement as a “mere formality” misses an opportunity for insight into the organization you are contemplating joining. Is the organization flexible? Is the contract presented in a “take it or leave it” manner without room for negotiation? What will this mean once you join? 

What should you know when presented with an offer of employment? 

Know your legal rights. A contract which is signed after commencement of employment may not be enforceable. 

Consent to the terms of an employment contract must be given freely, voluntarily, and fully. Consent obtained through abuse of authority or coercion may not result in an enforceable contract of employment. 

Get copies of all company rules and regulations prior to commencement of employment and execution of the employment agreement. Consult a lawyer and make sure things are in order and fair. 

An employment contract cannot override existing legislation under the Employment Standards Act. Parties cannot contract out of or waive an employment standard. 

The Employment Standards Act, 2000 addresses entitlements upon termination. Employees who are terminated and have been employed with an employer for less than three (3) months are not entitled to payment on account of notice of termination. Others have an entitlement to one week per year plus possible statutory severance pay. Remember, these are only minimum requirements. Most employees are entitled to notice well in excess of the legislation at common law. This right can be modified by agreement. 

Pay special attention to sections dealing with “duties and responsibilities”. An employee has a right to expect that his/her duties and responsibilities will not change significantly after they accept the position. Terms which allow the employer to change an employee’s duties and responsibilities may make it difficult to allege constructive dismissal. 

Finally, look for any provisions restricting your ability to work in a competing business after employment ends. Such restrictions should be avoided or at least minimized as to length and geographic scope so that they are reasonable from the point of view of both parties.

A clearly worded employment agreement will help you understand your legal rights both during employment and after it ends. As an employee you have rights and protections. Being informed provides the best tool for dealing with issues as they arise. Bring your employment contract to your attorney and make sure you are protected.