The Small Print: Important Things You Need to Check Before Signing an Employment Contract

Being offered a new role is very exciting. So exciting in fact, that many people fail to take the time to read the small print on their contract and get a clearer understanding of what they’re signing up for. According to a recent study, more than 53% of British workers admitted to accepting a job without reviewing their new contract first.

This is quite a scary statistic considering how important this document is. Not reviewing a new contract could mean you lose the chance to negotiate important elements of your role, such as salary and your working hours, that could your working life better. You could also sign a contract that contains inaccurate information or personal details, which could land you in hot water later on.

So, while it might not be the most thrilling read of your life, it’s really important that you take the time to read the small print on your contract, particularly when it comes to these areas:

Job title and Responsibilities

Your job title and responsibilities define exactly what the scope of your new role is, the duties your employer can and cannot ask you to do and the team you will be a part of. So, they both need to be correct. First things first, make sure the job title is the same as what was written on the job advertisement you applied for. For instance, if you applied for a managerial role, the job title listed on your contract shouldn’t just say ‘executive’. If it’s not correct, let your prospective employer know before signing.

Also, analyse the job description. The wider the job description, the more freedom your employer will have to move the goalposts and ask you to take on more work. So, make sure your job description reflects the role you applied for and doesn’t impose extra responsibilities that hadn’t been discussed with you previously.


It’s likely that the salary was the first thing you checked when you first got hold of your new contract. But it’s still important to look more deeply into the small print concerning your salary. Not only should it match the amount shown in the job advertisement, but it should also tell you when you can expect to be paid. The last thing you want is to agree to be paid weekly when really you need it monthly.

Your contract should also mention provisions for payments of other benefits that have also been agreed upon, such as your pension, car scheme, equity or shares, bonuses and commission payments. Also, find out if bonuses are guaranteed or discretionary. If they are based upon your performance, there should be working in your contract that sets targets and tells you who determines whether you meet these targets or not.

Hours of work

Agreeing to work hours that don’t suit your personal life and commitments, is something that can cause you to dislike your new role very quickly. So, make sure you get a firm grasp of the hours and days you’re expected to work and if you’re required to work evenings and weekends.

Taking the time to read through the details before signing gives you the perfect opportunity to negotiate a variation of your working hours if necessary, including the possibility of flexible or remote work. Also, if your prospective employer agreed to let you work specific hours or days during the interview process, make sure this is all present and correct in your contract.

Flexible work

If your prospective employer has promised you flexible working opportunities previously, it’s crucial that these promises are put into writing and included in your contract. Don’t just rely on their word alone. If you were promised one thing and your contract says another, the only way you’ll know what you’re agreeing to is by checking before you sign.

Also, if your boss was to move on in future and the arrangement you made together aren’t committed to paper, it could be difficult to ensure they continue under a new boss. So rather than leaving it to chance, triple check your contract to see what their policy on flexible working and whether they need to be changed before agreeing.

Paid leave

Not reading the T&Cs of your new contract could mean you run the risk of not finding out what your holiday entitlement is. A full-time worker is generally entitled to 28 days’ holiday each year, but this can vary from workplace to workplace.

Some employers might include the UK bank holidays within your statutory holiday entitlement, leaving you with 20 days rather than 28, while others might expect you to be available during bank holidays or not include them at all. In some instances, employers will want you to accrue holiday entitlement during your first year, which can mean you’re restricted to when you can take your paid leave.

Finding out about paid leave in advance is essential because it can help you to assess whether a job is right for you or not and can help you to assert your worker’s rights. According to studies carried out by the TUC, one in 12 workers in 12 workers don’t get their legal holiday entitlement, losing out on a collective £3bn of paid leave a year.

While these areas are particularly important, it’s always beneficial to thoroughly read all of the small print on your new contract to make sure it’s what you really want. It’s far better to find out about potential issues and discrepancies now than after a few months of working.

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Frances Wilebur

11th December

Career Advice