Your guide to employment contracts

07.12.2016

This article was first published in Garden Trade News, November 2016
What is the right employment contract for my garden centre – and do I need more than one?
Whilst it may be tempting to have a ‘one size fits all’ employment contract, most garden centres engage a mix of staff who all have different roles, requirements and value to the business. Consequently, staff may require different contracts because their pay and benefits are calculated differently (for example, hourly rather than annual pay), working hours are different (set hours, shift work or ‘zero hour contracts’) and entitlements to holiday and benefits differ (management staff tend to be rewarded with better benefits).
Further there are different categories of staff:
Workers provide their services for payment, but may be casual or contractors. They may leave without giving or receiving advance notice and not be offered further work. Workers are entitled to the minimum or national living wage and to paid holiday, but they are not protected from unfair dismissal and do not have redundancy rights.
Employees acquire full employment protection rights and rights to redundancy payments after two years. In return for providing loyalty, obedience and regular service, they receive at least statutory minimum notice before they can be dismissed and should only be dismissed for a fair reason.
Directors may also be employees. As they will have a say in how the business is run and be subject to confidential information about the business, their actions during and after employment should be restricted to protect the on-going business and the employer may need more time to find a replacement if they leave.
Both employers and staff should understand the basics of the agreement: the expectations required during the relationship, when it goes wrong or illness strikes and sometimes what is expected after employment ends; before they commit. No-one wants to receive a 30-page document dealing with every conceivable issue, but a written contract of employment should be put in place within two months of an employee starting work and should contain certain prescribed information, including dealing with pay, notice, hours of work and holiday entitlements. There is no legal requirement to provide this to workers, but it is best practice to provide a written contract for the same reasons.
Given the breadth of roles within a garden centre, typically there should be:
• A contract for senior employees/directors which may contain restrictions during employment and after on the employee’s ability to compete and for extended notice to allow time to find a replacement;
• A contract for permanent full-time or part-time employees. (Part-time employees should receive pro-rated terms which overall are no less favourable.) This will contain details of notice periods and references to applicable (but hopefully non contractual) policies, such as health and safety and disciplinary and grievances. These policies/procedures should be easily accessible from the staff handbook or intranet.
• A contract for casual or temporary employees dealing with hours, pay, paid holiday and also referring to applicable procedures concerning behaviour and conduct.
Once templates are drawn up, review them every few years because law and best practice changes – getting it wrong can cost more in the long run!

Lidia Poczok

Author