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Employment Contracts

Employment contracts can be confusing, particularly if you are just starting out in the workforce or if English is not your first language. This infosheet is designed to explain the key elements that should be present in everyone’s employment contract and what you can do if you encounter problems or changes to your existing contract.

If you have agreed with your employer that you will work in return for wages, you have an employment contract, regardless of whether or not your terms and conditions of employment are in writing.

Having an employment contract, whether it is written or verbal, means that you are an employee. This is different from being an independent contractor or sub-contractor. An employee is someone hired for their time and skills (and usually to continue doing a job), whereas a contractor is someone who runs their own business and is engaged to perform a service (like fixing a broken hot water system). Please see the JobWatch ‘Independent Contracting Traps’ infosheet for relevant information.

Employment contracts come in various forms. They can be written or verbal or a combination of both. The written component can be named different things like ‘agreement’ or ‘terms and conditions of employment’ or ‘workplace agreement’.

There may be implied terms to your contract which were not written down or verbally agreed upon but which are still binding. There are also various other rules which might affect your employment such as Modern Award conditions, Enterprise Agreements and legislation covering antidiscrimination and health and safety.

Regardless of the terms of any employment contract you may enter into, you cannot receive employment conditions that are less than the legal minimum standards that are set out in:

  • the National Employment Standards (NES); and
  • any applicable Modern Award or Enterprise Agreement.

A contract containing terms and conditions that are lower than the minimum standards is unenforceable in relation to those terms and conditions. You may be able to recover money owed to you. For further assistance, contact JobWatch, your union, or a lawyer.

Note – Any proposed change or variation to your contract should be negotiated (discussed) with you. That is, one party cannot legally change the contract without the consent of the other party. Just because an employer wants to change the contract does not mean you have to accept the change. You are entitled to say “no” to a proposed change.

For more information about employment contracts, minimum entitlements and obligations for employers and employees, and contract changes, download the fact sheet.

For further support

Call our Telephone Information Service on Melbourne Metro (03) 9662 1933 or Regional Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania on 1800 331 617.

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