The Importance of Signed Employment Contracts

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Employee Contract
There is no law that says an employment contract has to be signed by both the employer and the employee to be valid. Terms of a contract can be accepted verbally and there is an argument that if an employee continues to attend work and carry out their role, and accepting payment from their employer for doing so, they would be deemed to have accepted the terms and conditions within their contract irrespective of whether or not they have signed it.

However, in the case of Ms Cawley v Tenon FM Limited, Miss Cawley had been promoted several times during her employment to more senior roles before her resignation in May 2018. Each time she was promoted, she was given a new contract with ever-increasing and more onerous post-termination restrictions. When she resigned, the Company tried to enforce the post-termination restrictions.

The matter ended up in the High Court who asked to see Ms Cawley’s signed employment contracts. The Company were unable to provide any signed contracts. The High Court agreed that an employment contract can be accepted by the employee’s conduct but held that a signature was required in this case to show that the restriction had been expressly accepted because of the negative impact this restriction had on Ms Cawley in curbing her future employment. As no signed contract was available, the Company’s action failed.

So, our recommendation would always be to ensure that contracts are signed to show beyond doubt that the employee has expressly agreed to the terms contained within it. This should be done at any time during the life-cycle of the employee from their first appointment through any promotion.

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