SME employees failing to get to grips with their contracts

Only one worker in 166 has ever fully read their contract and understands its contents, research finds.

According to employment law consultancy, this ignorance has led to disciplinary action and dismissal in hundreds of cases.

Claiming ignorance of the contents of your work contract is no defence when it comes to a dispute with your boss, the company says.

Spokesperson for the organisation Mark Hall comments, ‘You would have thought that you would read through an important document before you put your name to it, but it appears that for most people that’s simply not the case.’ asked 1,000 employees all over the UK if they had ever read their contract in full, with 93 saying they had read part of it, or had skim-read it.

The vast majority (909) had not read their work contract, or had no memory of doing so, and more than half (56 per cent) say they have no idea where their contract currently is.

Those one-sided figures often present themselves when an employee comes into dispute with their boss, says.

Far from being a case of ‘I know my rights’, many workplace disputes reportedly happen because the worker has broken a clause that is specifically written into their contract.

The firm estimates that a significant proportion of unfair dismissal claims, numbering into the hundreds, are nipped in the bud simply because the claimant did not read their contract, and had no idea of appropriate behaviour at the time of the incident.

See also: Employment tribunal – How to navigate the process

‘For example, one of the most common problems is when shop or factory workers take damaged or unwanted goods home,’ says Hall. ‘In many cases, taking unwanted property is theft, even if it’s in the bin – and that’s a specific clause for many workers.

‘It’s just a shame many have never read their employment contracts to find out before they end up in a disciplinary process.’

Other common disciplinary problems that employees miss by not reading their contracts include ‘moonlighting’ for other companies – a simple check will reveal if you are signing an exclusivity contract, or agreeing not to work for competitors, and bringing the company into disrepute; often the case with unguarded or ill-advised social media posts.

Other problems include timeliness, whereby an employee can be held strictly to core working hours, and workplace behaviour; contracts often set out minimum standards of behaviour and dress.

Further reading

Ben Lobel

Delphine Hintz

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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