Job Contracts: What you need to Know

So you’ve just received a phone call to say that you got the job! You are bursting with excitement.

You’ve already messaged the family group, told your besties and posted your “I just got the job” Insta photo. But just as you are sitting there daydreaming about how you are going to use that first paycheck, your phone pings, and your job contract lands in your inbox. No worries, you think, I will just skim read and sign it – this is basically like the “Terms and Conditions” page. Not quite.

A job contract is the one lot of fine print you should not skim read. It is a signed agreement between an employee (you) and an employer that establishes the right and responsibilities of both parties. In most cases, job contracts are lengthy but if you know what to look out for, tackling the wad of paper can be a lot more manageable. In no particular order, here are some key things you need to look out for when signing your job contract.

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1. Salary, Bonuses and Benefits

Confirm that the salary that appears on your contract is the same as the salary you discussed in your interview and assess whether or not your salary includes medical aid or provident fund. Bonuses are also something that you need to look out for. Not all companies offer bonuses but if they do, you need to check whether they are guaranteed or discretionary. A guaranteed bonus is given regardless of your performance, whereas a discretionary bonus is given at the discretion of your employer based on your performance.

2. Leave allocation

In addition to your annual leave allocation, it is also important to take note of the conditions around sick leave, family responsibility/compassion, and maternity leave. Around these, it is also important to check what the deal is around getting paid during these periods. Pay may differ during certain leave types, such as maternity leave so make sure you consider this so that you can budget (and plan!) accordingly.

3. Start date

This might seem like a pretty obvious one but confirm that your start date is correct. You want to be adequately prepared and well-rested for your first day. Moreover, if you are moving from one job to another, you will need to ensure that the start of the new job lines up with the termination of the previous job. 

4. Working hours

In addition to confirming what your working hours are, see if the company allows you to work on flexi hours. This means that you arrive and leave work in your own time, just so long as you get your daily working hours in. This can be a deal breaker if you are likely to hit traffic on your way to work in the mornings. Also, confirm what the policies are around overtime. Are you expected to work overtime and if so, will you be notified of this in advance? Will you be compensated for it?

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5. Termination of Employment

Ensure that the reasons for possible termination are clearly stated. If they are not, you may find yourself in a situation where your contract is terminated without warning or without reason. Included here should be a point on how much notice period is required if you decide to terminate your contract. Terminating your contract may not be top of mind while you’re signing your contract but it is something to be aware of if you decide to resign at a later stage. Note that if you are going to be working on probation, you will need to confirm what that probation period is. Notice period will differ depending on whether or not you are still working through your probation period.

6. Job title and Responsibilities

This is most likely to be right at the top of your contract. It is important to familiarize yourself with your roles and responsibilities so that you know exactly what is expected from you. This will allow you to not only have an understanding of what to focus on but it will also help you to define your boundaries. You don’t want to find yourself in a position where you are working overtime on roles that are not yours to fulfil. Equally, it is important to check that your job title aligns with the roles and responsibilities outlined in your contract. This job title is going to be on your CV for years to come so you want to make sure that it adequately reflects your day-to-day responsibilities.

7. Other Employment

You may be doing some freelance work when you get a permanent job. You don’t always need to give this up! Look in your contract to see what the policies are around having other work.

8. Copyright and Confidentiality

There is often a lot of fine print in this section but it is important to read it. This is particularly prevalent in places like agencies, where you are paid to come up with ideas and insights in a market that is competitive. Most of the information is straightforward but it is important to know what you can and cannot speak about outside of work and who your work belongs to. 

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9. Non-compete Clauses

This is more relevant for specialist roles, but it is something to look out for nonetheless. If your contract has a non-compete clause in it, you will not be allowed to leave the company to go and work for a direct competitor for a defined duration. Inspect whether or not your contract includes a non-compete clause and confirm what duration has been specified.

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Once you have gone through your contract with a fine tooth comb, write down any questions you have and send them back to the HR manager of the company. You have the right to negotiate and discuss any of your concerns. It is a lot easier to raise concerns earlier on than it is to raise them after you have signed that dotted line. The more clarity you have, the more confident and comfortable you are going to feel!