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Employment Contracts in United Kingdom

1. Minimum requirements

The standard type of employment contract in the UK is an “open-ended” contract terminable on notice (subject to the protection which the law provides on unfair dismissal). A contract of employment need not be in writing and may be partly written and partly oral. Although the contract itself need not be in writing, employees who have been employed for one month or more must be given a statement containing certain terms and conditions of employment within two months of commencing work with an employer.

The most common employment relationship is that of full time permanent employment but an increasing number of staff have flexible working arrangements. This may include working part time, through fixed term contracts or through an agency. UK law gives special protection for these types of workers. Zero hours contracts are becoming more common in the UK although they have been criticised recently by various political figures. There are also special rules relating to apprentices, trainees and young persons.

Agency workers are entitled (i) from day one of an assignment to the same rights as comparable permanent employees in relation to access to shared facilities and job vacancies and (ii) after 12 weeks of an assignment to additional rights – in particular the same basic working and employment conditions as comparable permanent employees, including those relating to pay, annual leave and working time and rest periods.

2. Fixed term contracts

Workers may be contracted to work for a fixed period only or to perform a particular task with the contract terminating at the end of this period or on the completion of the task. Examples are those who are employed specifically to cover for maternity, parental or paternity leave; employees who do seasonal or casual work such as agricultural workers and shop assistants during busy periods; employees hired to cover unusual peaks in demand as in the tourist industry; and employees whose contracts will end on the completion of a specific task such as installing a computer system.

There is no requirement for fixed term contracts to specify the reason why it is a fixed term, although a job title should be included in the contract to comply with the employer’s statutory requirements on the written statement of particulars of employment (see above).

3. Notice Periods

The contract of employment should state the notice period that either party must give to the other party to terminate the employment.

The statutory minimum notice periods will be implied into the contract of employment and will override any express terms providing for a shorter period of notice than that provided by statute. Employees have a statutory right to receive a minimum period of notice from employers once they have been employed for one month, as follows:

  • One week’s notice for those with between one month and two years’ service.
  • Thereafter, an additional week’s notice for each continuous year of service, up to a maximum of 12 weeks for 12 complete years’ service.
For more information on these articles or any other issues involving labour and employment matters in United Kingdom, please contact Robert Hill, Partner at Clyde & Co (www.clydeco.com) at robert.hill@clydeco.com
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