Only one worker in 166 has ever read their employment contract and understood its contents, according to new research.
Employment consultancy Protecting.co.uk asked 1,000 employees across the UK if they had ever read their contract in full. Only six said they had; while 93 respondents said they had read part of it or had skim-read it. But the vast majority - 909 out of the 1,000 people polled - said they had not read their work contract or had no memory of doing so.
In addition, more than half (56%) said they had no idea where their contract currently is. And yet many employment disputes arise because an employee has broken a clause that is specifically written into their contract, according to Protecting.co.uk.
And, although staff are protected by a raft of employment laws, claiming ignorance of an employment contract is no defence when it comes to a dispute with your boss.
"We're stunned," said Protecting spokesperson Mark Hall. "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."
Key issues usually covered in contracts include:
- "Moonlighting" (most contracts will stipulate whether you can work for competitors);
- Inappropriate behaviour that could bring the company into disrepute such as ill-advised social media posts;
- Timeliness and working hours;
- Appropriate workplace dress;
- The use of company cars during time off.
Another issue, says Hall, is when shop or factory workers take damaged or unwanted goods home. "In many cases, taking unwanted property is theft, even if it's in the bin - and that's a specific clause for many workers."
Hall says that disputes could be avoided if companies issued a bullet-point summary of contractual expectations. "While a summary sheet is not a legally binding document, it at least gives the worker some sort of clue as to acceptable behaviour and standards of work," Hall said.
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