A Plain English Guide To British Employment Law

Employment Contracts

All employees have employment contracts with their employer, although these might not be in writing. If you don’t have a written employment contract, under employment law your contract would have automatically been created when you started to work for your employer.

What is an employment contract?

An employment contract, or ‘contract of employment’, is an agreement between an employer and an employee which sets out their employment rights, responsibilities and duties. These are called the ‘terms’ of the contract.

Your employment contract doesn’t have to be in writing for purposes of employment law. However, you are entitled to a written statement of your main employment terms within two months of starting work.

Your employment contract is made as soon as you accept a job offer under employment law. If you start work it will show that you accepted the job on the terms offered by the employer, even if you don’t know what they are. Having a written employment contract could cut out disputes with your employer at a later date, and will help you understand your employment law rights.

You and your employer are bound to the employment contract under employment law until it ends (usually by giving notice) or until the terms are changed (usually in an agreement between you and your employer).

Employment Law: Terms of an employment contract

The terms of your employment contract could be of several different types, some of which do not need to be written down. You should be aware of what the terms of your employment contract are, so that you understand some of your employment law rights.

Written statement of employment particulars

If you are an employee who has been working for your employer for longer than one month, you have the right under employment law to receive a written statement of employment particulars. This must be provided by your employer within two months of you starting, even if you are going to work for them for less than two months. The written statement will set out some of your main employment law rights.

Contract to provide services

If you have a ‘contract to provide services’ or a ‘contract for services’ with someone, then this is different from an employment contract and generally means you are self employed.

A contract to provide services is an agreement between you and another person to undertake some work for them (for example paint their house). You do not become an ‘employee’ for this person – you just provide them with a service.

If you are a temporary agency worker you may be contracted with your agency under a ‘contract for services’.  Your agency, as an employment business, will be obliged to provide you with a written contract under employment law.

What to do if you have a problem

If you have a problem you should first try to sort out the problem with your employer. You could contact the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Services (Acas) for help, or visit the employment useful contacts section for other contacts. If you have an employee representative, such as a trade union official, they may be able to help.

If you cannot resolve the problem with your employer you may be able to make a claim to an Employment Tribunal (Industrial Tribunal in Northern Ireland).