The short answer to this question is "no" – because of this, it's tempting not to bother. If you’re trying to set up a new company, then you probably have a hundred different things on your mind. You’re working on your business model, assessing profit margins, and looking for the new hires who can turn your idea into reality. But not having written contracts is a bad idea, whether it's fort part-time or full-time employees. Here's why.
Do my employees really need a contract of employment?
The short answer is no. There is no law stating that employees must receive a written contract from their employer. If you want to carry on employing your team without providing one, then you certainly can. The option is there. It’s just not a good idea. Here’s why.
All employees have a contract: part-time, full-time, etc.
Just because you haven’t written down a contract of employment does not mean it doesn’t exist. This is one of the peculiar quirks of UK employment law – the arrangement for you to pay someone in return for their work is enough in itself to constitute a contract of employment. So yes, you do not have to provide that contract in writing – however, it does bind you legally regardless.
What you need: a written statement of employment particulars
Every employee working for your company longer than one month is entitled to receive what is known as a written statement of employment particulars’. It doesn’t matter how many hours they will be working, or what working pattern that might fall into – this applies to everyone.
By law, the employee needs to receive that statement within two months of their start date.
Now, legally speaking, this statement does not constitute a formal contract of employment, but it does need to contain much of the information that you’d have to provide in that contract anyway.
The information that statement must contain is as follows:
- The names of both your company and the employee
- The date on which they started work with you
- Their job title
- A description of their role and responsibilities
- The amount of pay they will receive and how often they will be paid – for example, weekly or monthly
- Their hours of work (and if they might need to work Sundays, nights, or overtime)
- Their holiday entitlement – how many days off they are entitled to, whether that includes Bank Holidays, and your holiday pay policy
- How much notice you will give the employee if you decide to let them go
- How much notice you will ask from the employee if they decide to leave
- Where the job is based – for example, if they will need to work at more than one location
- Details of any collective agreements you have made with the employee’s representatives (such as trade unions etc).
While it doesn’t need to be in the employment particulars, that statement must also let the employee know where they can find information about the following:
- Pensions and pension schemes
- Disciplinary and grievance procedures
- The appeals procedure for disciplinary and grievance processes
So… should I give my employees a contract of employment?
Let’s rewind a minute. Remember, all your employees have a contract of employment – it just hasn’t been written down. Given that you are legally obliged to provide all of the above information anyway, then there is very little reason not to go ahead and provide them with a full written contract.
You lose nothing by doing so… and stand to gain a lot.
3 reasons to provide your employees with a contract of employment
The statement of employment particulars is really designed to protect employees, and give them clarity over their work. In terms of the employer’s own interests, it doesn’t do much at all.
A written contract is your chance to set out exactly what you expect from your team, protect your company from any misunderstandings, and lay the foundations of a good relationship with your employees.
Here are a few of the reasons why you should make getting your contracts sorted a top priority:
1) It’s your chance to be explicit about terms of employment
If you choose not to set out your contracts in writing, you miss out on a chance to be very specific about what you expect from your team. There’s a whole host of reasons why that is a mistake.
If you need any of your business operations to remain confidential, then the employment contract is where you'll make that clear. This not only makes that expectation obvious but also helps protect your company from a legal standpoint.
Alternatively, you might want to make clear any agreements around intellectual property. Otherwise, some companies use contracts to set out non-competition rules, ensuring that ex-employees do not set up competing companies immediately after leaving the business.
All of these things need to be explicitly stated in a contract – if it’s not, then you can’t rely on being protected.
2) It gives everyone clarity and peace of mind
It’s true that verbal agreements can often constitute a legally binding contract. The thing is, reaching agreements verbally leaves a huge amount of room for misunderstanding.
What's more, if that relationship ever does go south then proving that verbal agreement was made is notoriously difficult.
Having your agreement with an employee set down in writing means everything is much clearer and, crucially, much more robust. That peace of mind isn’t only for the employer though...
3) Written contracts encourage good relationships between you and your team
From an employee's point of view, having a written contract of employment is a really important aspect of feeling comfortable in their new role. To simply not receive one is needlessly jarring. It could mean they feel ill at ease about the company they’ve joined, and make them wonder if they’ve missed something important.
This is especially true of early-stage startups, where there is the potential for a certain amount of uncertainty anyway. The lack of a more formal HR structure certainly doesn’t help either.
One of the most crucial parts of the HR or Operations mission is to help your team to perform at their best. If your employees are stressing over the particulars of their employment, then they aren’t doing their best work.
Is there a difference between part-time employment contract and full-time?
Technically, and even though one employee works more hours than the other, there is no difference fundamentally when it comes to providing an employment contract to your team member.
One thing we will advise, however, is not to have a go at drawing these contracts by yourself – even though, again, it can be a tempting thought.
The best way to go about it is to hire an HR professional that will be able to do the job for you. However, it can be quite difficult to have the financial means to hire someone at this stage – one solution is to get an HR expert on hands at any time without making a full-time hire like the ones we have at Charlie. Have a look at our HR advice service to find out more.