Should I get my employment contract reviewed by a lawyer?
Receiving a job offer is exciting, especially if you’ve applied for multiple positions or if you’ve been looking for a long time. When your potential employer tells you a contract must be signed if you want to accept the position, you might think, “Should I get my employment contract reviewed by a lawyer first?”
The answer is a resounding yes! It’s so tempting to sign immediately because you want to secure your new job. But an employment contract provides the framework for the employer-employee relationship, so it’s important that you understand your rights and obligations both now and in the future according to the contract.
Do I have to sign my employment contract immediately?
You have a right to take a reasonable amount of time to sign your employment contract. If the employer is pressuring you to sign immediately, there could be cause for concern. There’s no law defining the time you have, but three days is generally considered fair.
When you take a few days to review your employment contract, you know with certainty what you’re agreeing to. This also gives you the opportunity to ask your employer questions about the contract and to review the contract with an employment lawyer. After all of this, you can sign with confidence.
Why should I get my employment contract reviewed before I sign it?
Your employment contract governs the working relationship between you and your employer. It details information about your job including:
- your role and responsibilities,
- vacation entitlement,
- hours and location of work,
- termination policies,
- confidentiality and competition clauses,
- workplace policies,
- and more.
When you sign your employment contract, you are agreeing to everything in it. So if there are specific conditions that matter to you (e.g. severance, the ability to work from home, paid vacation and stat holidays, etc.), you need to ensure the contract clearly addresses those things.
Some employment contracts use complicated or ambiguous wording that makes it difficult to fully understand the legal implications. Some also contain an “entire agreement” clause, which limits your agreement to only what the contract states directly. This means that verbal agreements or email conversations are meaningless and unenforceable in a legal context.
Sadly, many people are surprised by their small severance or by their employer’s right to change their compensation or vacation time. This is almost always because the employee signed the employment contract without realizing what they were agreeing to.
You should get your employment contract reviewed by an employment lawyer before you sign it to ensure that any verbal agreements are included and that you fully understand the terms of your employment.
What do I need to know before signing my employment contract?
Both employers and employees should be familiar with the laws that regulate employment relationships in Alberta. You can read them in the following documents:
- Employment Standards Code
- Alberta Human Rights Act
- Workers’ Compensation Act
- Occupational Health and Safety Act, Regulation and Code
If any part of your employment contract does not meet the legal requirements, those clauses in your contract are automatically void. The law supersedes the employment contract.
Job Description & Term
The employment contract should include:
- Your title
- Your work hours
- Your work location
- A description of your duties
- Duration of the employment contract if it’s not indefinite
This information is important because it clarifies expectations. Some flexibility in the language describing your duties is also important to allow for minor modifications, but substantial changes can be grounds for constructive dismissal.
Compensation, Benefits & Bonuses
Your employment contract should outline your pay, whether it’s hourly or a salary, and detail the benefits and bonuses you’re entitled to.
What you must pay particular attention to are the details about those benefits and bonuses. Some employers attempt to limit or prevent your ability to get these extras, even though they offer them as a motivator to work for them. Some things to look for in the employment contract include:
- All the benefits and bonuses you are entitled to
- Waiting periods before receiving benefits or bonuses
- Employee obligations to pay premiums
- Eligibility requirements such as active employment (If you are entitled to a bonus but are terminated before receiving it, the employer won’t pay it if active employment is a requirement.)
- Does the contract state that bonuses are at the sole discretion of the employer, or are they based on performance or other metrics?
Some employers use the termination clause of the employment contract to severely limit the amount of notice or pay in lieu of notice in the event of termination. If you sign your contract without having it reviewed by an employment lawyer, you could risk thousands of dollars if your employment is terminated.
No matter what the contract says, you are entitled to the minimum reasonable notice period or pay in lieu according to the Employment Standards Code. But don’t overlook this important part of your contract. Understand your employer’s obligations in the event of termination.
Exclusivity or Non-Competition Clause
An exclusivity clause or a non-competition clause is a critical part of your employment contract because it can affect your life outside of this employer-employee relationship in the present and in the future, even if you no longer work for this employer.
If there’s an exclusivity clause or a non-competition clause, you may be legally prohibited from:
- Working for a competitor
- Starting your own business
- Volunteering with certain organizations
These clauses can be difficult to enforce if they are not worded properly or are too broad or unreasonable. An employment lawyer can review the contract to make sure the clause is clear.
If you have other employment, run a business, or any other outside interests that may interfere with a clause like this, be sure to have your employment lawyer request an amendment to your contract that allows you to continue with those activities.
How a CALGARY EMPLOYMENT LAWYER Can Help with Your Employment Contract
Always have an employment lawyer review an employment contract before you sign it. It’s important to know what you’re agreeing to and to make sure you’re not giving up your rights.
The employment lawyers of Osuji & Smith in Calgary can help you understand each clause in your employment contract and its consequences. We can review the contract, help you negotiate any terms you disagree with, and ensure you get an employment contract that’s fair and good.
Before you sign your employment contract, contact us for a comprehensive employment contract review.