Navigating Your Contract
Let me first start off by stating that this is not a legal service that will send you blissfully to the isles of Hawaii with all of the money you just made off with. Let me also say that this is not an advocation service… there’s a link for that below. These are just a few key things that you should think about if you are going to sign anything. If you want a service, have it put in writing. Are you going to provide a service — also put it in writing. Though a contract does not have to be written, it is helpful for both parties to ensure that something is put down on paper. It keeps everyone safe and gives a clear understanding of what is expected from both sides.
Know What To Check. If you haven’t at the very least looked at the dates, guarantees, how to cancel, or get clarification on the parts that you don’t understand, then I suggest you pick up your contract and re-read it. It is not the responsibility of the contract giver to make sure you understand what’s going on. No one is going to take care of you, but you.
Know that you and your employer are bound to the contract until it ends (hopefully with due notice), or unless the terms are changed (hopefully with the consent of both parties). Don’t assume, ask questions, get clarification on jargon, and ask what’s not included before putting your John Hancock on anything.
Know Your Terms. It’s always a tossup in the legal system when you have something that is in writing than what is expected verbally. If you agreed to do a job on paper, but verbally, something else was said, then the court has no real choice but to go with the hard copy. Anyone can say anything these days and that piece of paper is going to ensure that you are not required to do a lot of work for free or paying for a lot of work that was not done.
Know What Terms Are Implied. Implied terms are not always written down anywhere, but they are understood to exist. If there is nothing clearly agreed between you and an employer about a particular job, then it may be covered by an implied term. Terms are implied into a contract for a number of reasons.
You expect to be treated respectfully and your employer expects you to know how to do the work. These niceties are the things that make contracts work and keep everyone friendly.
Know What Is Obvious and What Is Assumed. It is obvious that you will come to work on time. It is assumed that you will be supplying the equipment to do the job (unless otherwise agreed upon). It is assumed that if you are getting any type of benefits (sick leave, vacation time), there is a limit. Therefore, make sure that you get the obvious things written down and the assumed things understood. It never hurts to be precise.
Know What’s Implied By Practice. You know that the company (unless otherwise stated in your contract) closes early on Boxing Day, so you assume that you will be leaving with the rest of the staff. It is a practice of the company to give ice-cream sodas every Thursday. So you assume that you will be a recipient of a root beer float like everyone else. Be careful, however, as there is no fixed limit on how long something is going on that makes it a practice. They might have just started half day off on Boxing Day the year you signed up. You’ll need to know if you feel that the practice was optional, how obvious it was that this event occurred, and how long it’s been practiced. No one wants to miss out on a root beer float… nobody!
Know When Terms Can Change. Most of the time there is a mutual agreement between an employer and the employee. Maybe there’s a raise involved, jump in responsibility, a move/relocation, or perhaps some new hours. Either way, there should be no surprises put into your contract without you knowing about it. If your company is bought by a company of singing elephants, your contract should remain as is until you get an amended contract that you will then need to haggle over if you don’t’ find the terms to your liking.
Do Not Be Afraid To Get A Second Opinion or bring someone who can help you understand what you are signing. If you ever have any questions about your contract or any concerns, don’t sign until you are satisfied. Just make sure that you have the right expectations of what should be in your contract. Some resources to look into are listed below.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
1. Contracts: Examples & Explanations by Brian A. Blum
2. Kirsch’s Guide to the Book Contract: For Authors, Publishers, Editors, and
Agents by Jonathan Kirsch
3. Drafting License Agreements by Michael A. Epstein
4. Contracts Black Letter by John D. Calamari
5. Contracts, Third Edition by E. Allan Farnsworth △