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Cracking the contract

Understanding the employment contract

SO! YOU have the job. Congratulations!

After those unending rounds of interviews, you've finally clinched the deal and are about to accept the job. The new boss smilingly hands over a bunch of `standard forms' for your signature. Swept away by the wave of euphoria, you blithely sign every one of them. The multi-ream documents might merit a cursory glance at the most, because you are thinking of the party you've promised your friends that evening - besides you never paid attention during your `leagalese' class!

However, once the brouhaha dies down, realisation dawns as to what you're really in for. What you dismissed as routine whiffling has probably cast its grey shadow over your work and personal life. The seemingly rosy niche you thought you had is suddenly full of the thorns you hadn't noticed.

Clueing in to the contract

Before you sign and jump into the morass - think! Committing yourself to an unread contract is as close as you can get to career suicide. Surprises are great - when it's a party. They're terrible when it concerns your career.

The contract tells you all about the terms, conditions, duties and responsibilities relating to the job for which you are being hired. It will govern and regulate what you can and cannot do. A scrupulous check can open up means to negotiate a better deal and protecting your interests. Here's how to look before you leap:

Job description - This is a brief outline of your job, its title, the work you have to do, and the hours you need to put in; which, if unreasonable can turn into your worst nightmare. You should insist on knowing the actual duties, the discretionary responsibilities and the authority structure as well as probationary period, promotion and overtime policies to know what you are letting yourself in for.

Compensation - This specifies your salary and allowances. It's likely that there is a catch somewhere here. The figure may not represent all that you will actually get in hand. Do not confuse CTC with salary. The abbreviation stands for "Cost to Company" and is the amount of the money that you cost the company, which includes a whole lot of things that may not directly benefit you.

They could be assigning monetary values to the "free" lunch, and the company gym and you could end up with a take-home salary that you could use only to cover the cost of eating out three times! So, make sure that the details of fringe benefits, deductions, profit sharing, stock options and bonus policies are clearly spelled out.

Disciplinary procedures - This deals with things like punitive action and grounds of termination if you are guilty of misconduct, incompetent performance or breaking the rules. But, what if you are at the receiving end of ill-treatment or are overlooked for a well-deserved promotion? Do try to see that both the company and you are adequately covered.

Statutory guidelines - Carefully understand the ins and outs regarding holiday and leave entitlement, carry forward of, or leave encashment, reimbursement of legitimate expenses, sick leave and sick pay. Also, if you are on the wrong side of fifty, check out the rules governing retirement. If you are on the right side of fifty, read the fine print about disengagement procedures that cover resignation, notices and notice pay.

Restrictive covenants - Most companies incorporate non-competition clauses to govern your actions even after you have left their organisation. It restricts working for competitors and canvassing old clients for a period up to two years, or in some cases for five years. Exercise caution since this can blight your prospects in the future. If you resign and find you are barred from doing the only thing you have been trained for, you'll suffer without a job if you want to be free from prosecution.

Confidentiality - Employees are required to keep certain company information like trade secrets and contract details confidential. Handle such stipulations with care, as you are legally liable for breaches of such confidences.

Intellectual rights - Inventions or documents created by employees undoubtedly belong to the company. But, be on your guard as the catchphrase may lay unjust claim on work done on your personal time. Ask for specific exclusion of work done outside company time.

Golden handcuffs - The cmpany may offer a lump sum payment as an inducement to make you stay for a specified period. This will definitely benefit the company by reducing attrition rates and job-hopping, but do you really want to be tied down for so long?

Confusion, confusion - Give the contract a thorough going over. If doubts persist, the time to ask is when it's in front of you - not after you sign. Play it safe by meeting with your boss or the HR department to seek clarifications on ambiguous points. You can also consult an outside attorney to protect your interests. It will surely be money well spent!

If there is no contract at all

In the absence of a written contract, the company handbook is the source for all information about your appointment and the several terms and conditions that you accept an offer from them. However, this throws up several ambiguities.

Verbal promises are not legally enforceable (unless you have a witness with you (to which you are entitled but which most people do not avail) as `what is not there (in writing) is not there'. Written agreements are best

So, watch out for yourself before its too late. No one else will do it for you. It is infinitely better to be safe rather than sorry!


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