Things to look out for in a contract
While signing quite a few contracts, I have learnt the importance of actually looking over it very carefully before putting my signature on that line at the end of the paper. My boyfriend and in general people in position of recruiting, have revealed to me that there are in fact a great amount of people who simply trust the employer. Some which just neatly write their signature on the last paper without even reading the contract. Imagine my astonishment to this.
Personally, I know too many which have been screwed over by an employer and of course, I have been facing difficult situations as well. I know the trust we have when we are eager, finally getting this job we have dreamt of. It is thrilling and the last thing we want to do, is to point out a missing little line in the contract which we find unnecessary at the moment. But honestly, even if everything is amazing at the beginning (as it should be!) – chances are unfortunately that this will not be the case when we talk of the quitting process. See it as a marriage. When we get married we are all happy and grateful for everything. But when approaching a divorce we may witness parts of each other which we do not appreciate so much.
What are our tasks? What is expected from us? This is one of the most important things to have written in those contract papers. Otherwise, even if we trust our employers, they may be able to change what we do at work. Suddenly even if we were supposed to organize meetings, we may end up doing something completely different. I know from personal experience the importance of really knowing the words in the contract, and make sure that they are there.
Additionally, the employer will not be able to use us for precisely everything if the job description is precise. One favorite I find among contracts is ”typical work of an *blabla* and everything surrounding it.” I know it is hard to point out the fact that we want another way of describing our type of work and work tasks that are this diffusive – but I promise it is important. Again, I do have a great understanding that the last thing we want to appear in an interview, is being too demanding. Specifically when it is our dream job or simply that we are desperate to get a job, this job.
2. Job Title
Not only is this an official title we can write on LinkedIn, but one which will remain on our business cards and resume. Before, I did not use to put a lot of energy in what title I had, more of what I was supposed to execute at work. How I would spend my days. In a way, that is a way to go. But let’s face it. There are many titles while the work may be the same. Therefore, today, I am a bit more selective to point out that I would prefer a specific title before signing the contract. If I am a business developer and the employer wants to recruit me as a seller, I would not again agree to this. If I do the work of a business developer, then I want to be credited as one. So, I admit I did this ”mistake.” However, I will not be doing it again.
I think the same goes with being a salesman. There are tons of different ones and I would, like I said, not accept a title which does not describe my precise position. This would be an advice I give to you to actually look over. Even if the job opportunity is written in a post in the newspaper, business blog or whatever does advertise for a specific title – it is negotiable. After we have sold us in for the job and it is ours – we just say we want to be titled for what the role is. Of course we shall be realistic. We may not claim to be called for a CEO when we in fact sit in the reception dialing phone calls throughout the day. No, what I wanted to emphasize was the lack of many employers not giving the title to an employer which they deserve! Keep this in mind, please. I know that there is a discussion of inflation of titles thrown out as well, but I preferred pointing out the opposite here.
3. Salary (and what goes in it + how to get it)
Salaries can vary a lot. It may be based on provision, bonuses, an hourly wage or a monthly one. This will differ a lot. As a month where there are less days is a month we would have earned to have a monthly salary while a month where there are more hours – we would win with an hourly wage. Also with provision, it is important to really read into this. What is required and what happens if we do not manage fulfilling this result every single month? Is there a floor preventing us to fall into the basement? And what happens if we crush the roof and needs to aim for the sky? Will it benefit us or is there a protective and rock solid unmovable roof? In the excitement – READ this and if we do not understand it fully, ASK. Frankly, when reading these lines, we should be able to interpret them correctly. It should really not be a job for a lawyer. Because that screams trouble already then.
Many times there are lunch included/excluded in the job deal. Phone bills, a quite new but common thing to have included. I think it is very important to have this particular one in your contract. As if not, while the employer promises to pay the bill and actually does so, we will still be the loser in the end when quitting if the employer suddenly decides to make a major cut in our last salary. Now claiming that since this is not written in the contract, the company has its’ right to reclaim this money. Yup, it has not happened to me but I know from friends that this is such a huge yet tiny thing to point out. And crucial. Love that word. But it is very suitable here. Because it is crucial. 50 bucks in phone salary each month which the company pays for, will be quite a lot if we have worked there for over a year and the employer wants to regain it.
Here are some questions that also must be answered in an employment contract.
What happens if we will go on maternity leave? What happens if we get sick? Vacation? WHAT is included in this job opportunity? If we are not happy with what is written down, we may negotiate with the employer. It is not at all an impossibility to get what we want. Well, often we need to prove it then with good sales skills of what we deserve. But still, if we are good with negotiating a contract, these are typical stuff we can expand.
Another important line I do know many companies offer are vehicles. How does those papers look like? Gasoline, gas station card and insurances? What are the rules to this? I know many people just think the obvious here; that everything is included and pinkish heaven. The employer may even assure us that. But, he or she does not in fact assure us that before we have it on a written paper with both signatures.
Remember other stuff which often are included when starting at a working place: IDs, transport (do we need to use a cab when heading to meetings and who will pay for it?), products and clothing or shoes. Also, keep in mind if one of these things go missing. Will it be up to us to adjust this and open our wallets or does the company?
4. Start (and end) date + notice period
As simple as it sounds. So, when do we start working? Is it a limited period of time? And how does the notice period look like? Here we must check what happens if we quit our jobs for example on the tenth of October. If we for example have three months notice, does it mean we work October, November, December and until tenth January? Another way can be that quitting when already starting a new month means that the notice period first begins when November starts. Which means with a three months notice period, we would work until last January/1st February. As it means that our quitting statement starts taking place 1st November, even if we officially did quit our job two weeks prior to this.
And, remember that even if we quit by saying so by mouth: it is important to do this by a written form. Again, as proof if something somehow would go wrong. The employer may brush it off and wave at our arrival with the piece of paper as we carefully knock on their door. And they may claim that they do not need it. Here, we must politely insist that the employer takes it anyhow. Or, send an email. Just do it in a written form regardless of how. First, I recommend of course to reveal our quitting confirmation by talking face to face. But afterwards, it is important to follow up with a written form. An example can be to write ”As we spoke of, I (name) have now decided to quit (+date),” and here we must add our signature. Get it from the employer as well. If done professionally, leave them a copy and keep the original. – Or, do this on two papers.
By now, we have read the agreements on starting period and perhaps an ending one. Regardless, another check is to make sure what hours we work. Is this a work where we will work 24/7, or is it strictly from 8.am to 4.pm with thirty minutes lunch? Alright, and then what happens when we travel for conferences further away? We may even have to stay at a hotel for a few days for this cause. Keep this in mind. Is the schedule flexible? Often when the work really is based on results, typically those hours will expand or change somehow. Talk with the employer and ask how the others do their work and what will be expected of ourselves as we start here. Also, is there a learning process included? How long and is it paid (as we should demand)?
Also, notable thing to mention. Check the schedules if we are supposed to work on weekends/nights and holidays. What is expected really? What does the contract say? It does not matter that the employer promises us only working one weekend each month. Because what happens when two coworkers decide to quit, I can assure you that suddenly the employer has forgotten all about his promise and since it is not noted in the contract – we can forget all about it. Also check out that if we do not have a mon-fri work sort of job but one that also contains weekends or evenings – check the salary. We want more money to work on ”uncomfortable” hours. Or, do we not? In addition: location should be noted. Where do we work? The company may have different offices and where will ours be? Across the city or right on the next street to our house?
Typically when accepting a new job, this is not the department among the pages we are looking for. So we have checked the salary, which is great, the hours and in general everything seems to be alright. This is a part of the contract many people just browse with not that focused eyes. And I want to remind that this is after all yet another important deal. Well, according to my opinion every single written word in a contract is important.
Here the employer may bring up that they do not accept us working part time elsewhere. Or creating our own business. Maybe also that when we quit, we sign onto having a certain amount of time pass before we are allowed to start working for a competing company. As we can see, this is a heavy part of the contract. Specially if we are keen on maybe freelancing a little and try our wings with our own company. It can be as simple as creating a grayish zone if we decide to help out a friend and get paid for it. If the employer finds out, and as result that he or she may not be happy about it, we see the employer angrily point her/his fingertip against this section in the contract to remind us what agreement we have broken. Please, do not end up in that position.
If we consider working elsewhere too or simply are suspecting we may be eager to have a paid hobby in the future, it is often not harmful to bring this up to the employer and ask them write differently. Of course, we must ensure the employer that this other hobby will not be in the way of the daily work. But after signing the papers as they are and afterwards still work elsewhere too, it can really end badly. For both parts. Chances that the employee will get caught is from what I have seen something that is not too unlikely. We never know about who knows whom and what locations our employer or coworker hangs out at around midnight on that particular Thursday. Really, we will regret it awfully much if we would get caught with a misdeed.
6. Sign Every Paper We Read
After reading each paper and we agree to the terms; we sign each paper. Many people may raise their eyebrows at this, but I think it is a very smart move. That way, no part can add or remove a paper from the pile. Every page we read we sign (if agreeing). And when we are done, we get the original and the employer gets the copy. At least, I have not experienced a case where it is the opposite.
Do not ever leave the contract there because the employer wants to sign it another day. Do not EVER let that happen. If that happens we suggest that we can return another day and go through the contract. Even better, let them send it to us through email and that we can return another day to sign it and print it out at their office. In any case, both parts need to be there to sign it at the same time. It is never acceptable to leave a contract with only one signature. We can never assure that there will be no change. Because when both lines are signed, that is the official agreement. And if new words are added or removed, we return home and cry our eyes out. Now, we do not want that, do we? So – always sign the contract with the boss together! And read the contract!
Lastly, I hope this opened our minds for a more analytical head. I wish you good luck with your new job or simply new contract at the same work place. I wish you get what you wish for and that this text helped you know a little better what to look out for and the reason why it is so crucial. And – read the contract. 🙂