Employment contracts

An employment contract is the legal relationship between you and your employer, usually set out in a written document.

If your employer fails to abide by the terms in your employment contract they could be in breach contract.

Our employment lawyers are specialists in drafting and advising on employment contracts and are well placed to help when employment contract issues or disputes arise. We recommend that you speak to one of our partners before any potentially contentious discussion with your employer about the terms of your employment contract.

We can help you to avoid or resolve a contract issue with your employer before it turns into a dispute.  Alternatively, we can assist with a pre-existing contract dispute or court claim whether you are pursuing or defending a claim.

When do employment contract disputes arise?

Disputes typically happen:

  • When an employer breaks a contractual provision, such as by failing to pay salary, bonuses or commission
  • When an employer wants to change the contract
  • When the interpretation of a term or condition is unclear
  • When an employee wants to rely on a provision discussed with their employer but not properly reflected in the written employment contract
  • In relation to an employee’s post-termination restrictions or restrictive covenants.

Non-payment of salary, bonus or commission

Non-payment of salary is normally a straightforward legal matter. Although this is likely to be a breach of the employment contract, the best way to pursue this in an employment tribunal is with an unlawful deduction from wages claim.

Bonus claims can be more difficult as bonuses tend to be described as discretionary payments, the details of which are often set out in a separate non-contractual policy document.

There are limited circumstances however when a discretionary bonus payment can become a contractual right, for example as a result of custom and practice or previous dealings.

Commission payments are more likely to form part of the wording of the employment contract itself and therefore non-payment of commission can often be treated like non-payment of salary for enforcement purposes.

Frequently asked questions

Can your employer unilaterally change your employment contract?

Not unless there is a provision in the contract that allows the change. If there is no such provision then you have to agree to the change.

Can your employer force you to agree to a change in your contract?

Usually, no.  However, if you do not agree to change your contract, your employer may try to dismiss you and rehire you on new employment terms. This is a risky strategy for employers which could give you the right to bring an employment tribunal claim. If you are in this situation you should speak to an employment lawyer.

What are your remedies for a breach of your employment contract?

You can bring a claim for compensation from your employer whilst remaining in employment. Alternatively, if the breach is serious, you can resign and bring a claim for constructive dismissal.

Should I resign?

Our advice would be to always speak to an employment lawyer before resigning. Your chances of negotiating an exit package are almost always much better before handing in your resignation.

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If you suspect that you have a case and need our help, get in touch with our team

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