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What Is an Employment Contract?

An employment contract is an agreement between an employer and employee regarding the employee's term of employment. It can be implied, oral, or written, involving a lengthy physical contract that the employee signs. The terms laid out in the contract depend on what was agreed upon when the employee confirmed that they would take a position.

See Employment Contract by State

What Are At-Will Employment Contracts?

Most U.S. employees work at will. That means that they can quit or be terminated for any reason, if the termination is legal and isn't because of retaliation or discrimination. Almost every state follows the at-will employment rule with the single exception of Montana.

In Montana, after an employee has completed the employer's probationary period or has worked for the employer for six months if no probationary period is in place, the employee can only be fired with good cause. Outside of Montana, at-will employment is assumed unless the employer and employee agree on a different relationship.

It is also worth noting that even in at-will states, there can be other exceptions (i.e., public policy, implied contract, etc.) which can limit an employer’s ability to terminate without cause. If you have questions about this, we recommend seeking advice from an employment lawyer in your jurisdiction.

Find out more about at-will employment contracts here.

Advantages and Drawbacks of Employment Contracts

There are some clear advantages as well as a few drawbacks to having an employment contract in place.

Advantages of Employment Contracts

  • Clearly defined duties and benefits The employment contract defines the responsibilities for the job and benefits that are included as part of the employment. Employers can use it to specify standards for the employee's performance and reasons where termination would be justified.
  • Protects both employers and employees The employment contract protects the rights of both parties. The employer can include a noncompete or nondisclosure clause into the employment contract to prevent the employee from sharing confidential information for personal gain. Likewise, it can prevent them from leaving their jobs and competing against you at another company.
  • Stability Both the employee and employer know what to expect from their relationship.
  • Legally binding The employment contract is legally binding, and there are consequences if the employee breaks the contract.
  • Attract employees An employment contract can be used to attract candidates to work for you rather than the competition, as you can promise job security or other beneficial terms in the employment contract.

Drawback of Employment Contracts

The primary drawback of an employment contract is that it limits the employer's flexibility. Both the employer and employee are legally bound to the terms of the contract, and it cannot be changed without renegotiating the terms. That can be problematic if the employer later decides they need to change the terms. There is no guarantee the employee will agree to the new terms when renegotiating.

  • Limits employers flexibility Both the employer and employee are legally bound by the terms of the contract. Employers will need to abide by these terms and have less freedom in what they choose to do when managing their employees if the business changes over time.
  • Limits the employers ability to fire an employee There may be instances where an employee does not work out and need to be terminated. By using an employment contract, it may limit an employers ability to terminate an employee.
  • Costs and administrative burden Drafting and managing employment contracts creates administrative burden and legal fees for employers. It can also create fees for employees since they will likely want to get their employment contract reviewed before signing.

What Is Included in an Employment Contract?

  • Wages or salary Contracts will itemize the wage, salary, or commission that the employer and employee agree upon.
  • General responsibilities An employment contract can list the different responsibilities and tasks that an employee is required to complete while employed.
  • Schedule The contract may include the days and hours that the employee is expected to be at work.
  • Employment duration The contract may specify the length of time that the employee agrees that they will work for the company. The agreement could be set for a specific period or could state that employment is ongoing.
  • Confidentiality Employers sometimes include a statement about confidentiality in the employment contract, although many also require employees to sign a separate confidentiality agreement.
  • Benefits The employment contract should lay out all of the benefits that are promised to the employee, including health insurance, paid time off, retirement plans, and other perks.
  • Noncompete agreement An employer may include a noncompete agreement or clause that prohibits the employee from leaving their job and taking a position that would put them in competition with the current employer.

What Is a Trial Period?

A trial period is when a new employee is hired on the basis that there are no commitments yet between the employee and employer. This period is also sometimes referred to as a probation or probationary period.

Full Time vs. Part Time

There are no federal laws in place that define what full-time work is and each employer might have their own definition. However, an employee who works between 30 and 40 hours per week is considered to be a full-time employee. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) generally considers an average of 30 hours per week (or 130 hours per month) as full-time employment. As a general standard, under § 778.101, 40 hours is the maximum number that an employee can work for an employer without additional compensation unless they're exempt from overtime pay.

See Employment Contract Pricing by State

Minimum Wage

Minimum wage is the lowest amount that employers can legally pay their employees per hour. The federal minimum wage for nonexempt employees is $7.25 per hour. A nonexempt employee is one that is not exempt from overtime pay. These employees must be paid at a rate that is one-and-a-half times their usual pay rate for hours that they work beyond 40.

Types of Employment

  • Employees This can be a full- or part-time relationship where an individual is directly hired by a company.
  • Independent contractors This is when an employer hires an independent freelancer or business to provide goods or services according to the terms of a contract.
  • Apprentices In this arrangement, someone works under the direction of an experienced individual who teaches them the skills they need to learn to become licensed for a trade.
  • Interns This is an arrangement in which an individual works in a paid or unpaid position within a business for a short period of time to learn skills for white-collar careers.

Employee vs. Independent Contractor

The easiest difference to understand between an employee and an independent contractor is how their taxes are handled. An employer is responsible for withholding federal income tax, while the independent contractor is responsible for paying their own state and federal taxes. However, the IRS has a range of factors they use to determine an employee vs. independent contractor. Companies who misclassify can be subject to significant financial penalties.

Here is a more in-depth look at the primary differences:

Employee

  • Paid hourly or salary
  • Employer withholds tax payments
  • Employer is responsible for obtaining unemployment insurance
  • Employee completes IRS Form W-4
  • Employee works directly for the employer's business

Independent Contractor

  • Paid per project, task, or sometimes hourly
  • Taxes not withheld from payments
  • Employer doesn't obtain unemployment insurance for contractor
  • Contractor fills out IRS Form W-9
  • Works for their own business rather than the employer's
  • Little day-to-day oversight of their working habits

How Employment Contracts Work

There are different kinds of employment agreements depending on the company and job:

Written Contracts

A written contract can be beneficial because it allows the employer to define the responsibilities, roles, and benefits to prevent any future confusion. Employees are required to fulfill the terms of the contract, including complying with any limits on where they can work if they leave the company.

Implied Contracts

An implied contract is where employment is inferred from information communication and comments made during an interview or promotion. An implied contract can also fall into place as a result of a handbook or training manual.

Employment Contract Sample

EMPLOYMENT CONTRACT

THIS AGREEMENT is made and entered into as of [DATE], by and between [EMPLOYEE NAME], hereinafter referred to as “Employee”, and [COMPANY NAME], which has its principal place of business at [ADDRESS], hereinafter referred to as “Employer”.

RECITALS

WHEREAS, Employer is engaged in the business of [INDUSTRY], maintaining its principal office at [ADDRESS]; and

WHEREAS, Employee and Employer wish for the Employee to accept the position of [POSITION]; and

WHEREAS, Employee and Employer now desire to enter into a written employment contract between the parties;

NOW, THEREFORE, IN CONSIDERATION of the mutual covenants contained herein, the parties hereto agree as follows:

  1. EMPLOYMENT. Employer hereby employs Employee as its [POSITION], to exercise all ordinary and necessary duties as defined by the [POSITION] of Employer, and Employee hereby accepts and agrees to such employment, subject to the general supervision of the Employer’s [POSITION]. Subject to the provisions of Section 9 of this Agreement, Employer reserves the right to change Employee’s duties from time to time as Employer deems necessary and appropriate as the business of Employer evolves. Employer may, in its discretion, increase Employee’s salary or other benefits without having to amend this Agreement and unless specified in writing such changes in salary or benefits will not modify the term or termination provisions of this Agreement. Employee recognizes that Employee’s employment is at will. During the course of employment, both Employee and Employer have the right to terminate Employee’s employment at any time, subject to the provisions of Section 9 of this Agreement.
  2. BEST EFFORTS OF EMPLOYEE. Employee agrees that Employee will at all times fully, industriously, and to the best of Employee’s ability, experience, and talent, perform all of the duties that may be required of and from Employee pursuant to the express and implicit terms hereof, to the satisfaction of Employer in the exercise of its sole discretion. Such duties shall be rendered at the business address of Employer and at such other place or places Employer and Employee shall, in good faith determine, as the interest, needs, business or opportunity of Employer may require. Employee shall comply with all current Employer policies, rules and regulations as adopted from time to time and all specific directions of Employer.
  3. COMPENSATION OF EMPLOYEE. Employer shall pay Employee, and Employee shall accept from Employer, effective as of [EFFECTIVE DATE], as full compensation for Employee’s services hereunder, [AMOUNT] bi-weekly, paid in accordance with Employer’s regular payroll policies.
    1. Employee shall be eligible to participate in the benefits set forth below during the term of his employment pursuant to the terms of the respective benefit plans. Employee acknowledges that Employer may change its benefit plans in its sole discretion.
    2. Coverage for Employee and Employee’s dependents under Employer’s group medical and group dental plans to the extent the same are provided to other employees.
    3. Participation in bonus incentive plans as may be offered by Employer to its key employees from time to time.
    4. Other company provided benefits such as holidays, sick leave, and group insurance benefits as adopted by Employer and generally made available to employees of Employer.
  4. VACATION. Employee shall receive vacation during each year of employment in accordance with Employer’s then existing personnel policy. Unused vacation time from each year may accumulate in accordance with Employer’s then existing personnel policy.
  5. OTHER EMPLOYMENT. Employee shall devote his full time, attention, knowledge, and skills to the business and interests of Employer, and Employer shall be entitled to all benefits, profits, or other issues arising from or incident to all work, services, and advice of Employee. Employee shall not, during the term hereof, be interested directly or indirectly, in any manner, as partner, officer, director, stockholder, advisor, employee, or in any other capacity in any other business similar to Employer’s business. Nothing contained herein shall be deemed to prevent or limit Employee from acquiring stock or other securities of any corporation whose stock or securities are owned or are traded on any public exchange, or from investing in real estate.
  6. TRADE SECRETS. Employee shall not at any time, or in any manner, either directly or indirectly, use, divulge, disclose, or communicate to any person, firm, or corporation, in any manner whatsoever, any information containing any matters affecting or relating to the business of Employer, including all information without limiting the generality of the foregoing, regarding any of its customers, the price it obtains or has obtained from the sale of its products, or any other information concerning the business of Employer, its manner of operation, plans, processes, or other data, without regard to whether all of the foregoing matters will be deemed confidential, material, or important, the parties hereto stipulating that as between them, the same are important, material, and confidential, and gravely affect the effective and successful conduct of the business of Employer, and Employer’s good will. Any breach of the terms of this paragraph shall be a breach of this Agreement.
  7. TRADE SECRETS AFTER TERMINATION OF EMPLOYMENT. All the terms of Section 6 shall remain in full force and effect for the period of three (3) years after the termination of Employee’s employment for any reason. Employee cannot offer employment to current (current at time of termination) employees of [COMPANY] or induce them to leave [COMPANY] for a period of one (1) year after termination.
  8. AGREEMENTS OUTSIDE OF CONTRACT. This Contract contains the complete agreement concerning the employment arrangement and separation provisions between the parties and shall, as of the effective date hereof, supersede all other written or oral agreements between the parties. The parties stipulate that neither of them have made any representation with respect to the subject matter of this Agreement, or any representations including the execution and delivery hereof except such representations as are specifically set forth in writing herein, and each of the parties hereto acknowledges that such party has relied upon such party’s own judgment in entering into this Agreement. The parties hereto further acknowledge that any representations that may have heretofore been made by either of them to the other are of no effect and that neither of them has relied thereon in connection with this Agreement.
  9. TERMINATION.
    1. Employer’s Board of Directors, its [POSITION] or [POSITION] may, in their discretion, terminate Employee’s employment at any time for any reason or for no reason. After such termination, Employer shall pay Employee for Employee’s accumulated unused vacation and, subject to the provisions below, Employer shall continue to pay Employee’s base salary only in effect prior to termination for a period of twelve (12) months after termination. Also, for the period during which any salary payments are being made, Employer will provide, through COBRA, group medical and dental plan coverage for Employee and Employee’s dependents as such plans are then generally offered to employees of Employer. Employee may elect to continue group medical coverage at the termination of severance benefits, for the balance of any COBRA period, at Employee’s sole expense. Employee shall not be entitled to receive any payments under any bonus, profit sharing or other incentive compensation plan of Employer unless Employee is employed by Employer on the date such payments are due to be paid.
    2. No severance benefits will be provided if Employee elects to terminate his employment or is terminated for cause. For purposes of this Agreement, “Cause” means (i) conviction of a felony or misdemeanor involving moral turpitude; (ii) engaging in illegal business practices or other practices contrary to the written policies of the Company; (iii) misappropriation of assets of the Company; (iv) continual or repeated insobriety or drug use; (v) continual or repeated absence for reasons other than disability or sickness, (vi) fraud; (vii) embezzlement; (viii) violation of the Company’s written conflict of interest policies; and (ix) material breach of this Agreement.
    3. All severance benefits including, but not limited to, the continuation of salary payments in whole or in part, and all other payments made on Employee’s behalf for group medical and dental coverage will terminate immediately upon Employee’s employment by a third party at a base salary equal to or greater than the base salary then being paid Employee by Employer. If Employee is paid a base salary by a third party lower than that being paid by Employer, Employer shall continue to pay the difference for the remainder of the period set forth in Section 9(a) above, but Employer’s obligation to continue payments for medical and dental coverage will terminate immediately upon employment by a third party.
    4. Any outstanding stock options held by Employee at termination of employment shall be treated as provided for under the company Stock Option Plan by which options were granted.
    5. The provisions of Sections 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 16 shall survive the termination of this Agreement.
  10. REMEDIES. Any breach or evasion of any of the terms of this Agreement by either party hereto will result in immediate and irreparable injury to the other party and will authorize recourse to injunctive relief and/or specific performance, as well as to all other legal or equitable remedies to which such injured party may be entitled hereunder.
  11. COVENANT NOT TO COMPETE. In order to protect the value of Employer’s business and of Employer’s stock, Employee covenants and agrees that Employee will not, either directly or indirectly, own, manage, operate, join, control, or participate in the ownership, management, operation or control of any business which engages in any business similar to, or which competes with Employer, for a period of one year after the termination of Employee’s employment.
  12. Employee further covenants and agrees that Employee will not, during the period of noncompetition, lend Employee’s credit or money for the purpose of establishing or operating any such business described hereinabove, nor give advice, either directly or indirectly, to any person, firm, association, corporation, or other business entity engaged in or engaging in such business; provided however, that Employee may trade, sell, or otherwise deal in publicly-traded securities for Employee’s benefit.
  13. RESTRICTIVE COVENANTS. The parties believe that the restrictive covenants contained in Sections 5, 6, 7 and 11 of this Agreement are reasonable. However, if any court having jurisdiction shall, at any time, hold such covenants to be unenforceable or unreasonable, whether as to scope, territory, or period of time as specified, then such court shall declare or determine the scope, territory, or period of time which it deems reasonable.
  14. SEVERABILITY. Except as otherwise provided in this Agreement, if any term or provision of this Agreement shall to any extent be determined by a court of competent jurisdiction to be invalid or unenforceable, the remainder of this Agreement shall not be effected thereby, and each term and provision of this Agreement shall be valid and be enforceable to the fullest extent permitted by law.
  15. CHOICE OF LAW. It is the intention of the parties hereto that this Agreement and the performance hereunder and all suits and special proceedings hereunder be construed in accordance with and pursuant to the laws of the State of [STATE].
  16. BINDING EFFECT. This agreement shall bind Employer and its successors, assigns, agents, and representatives.
  17. ATTORNEY’S FEES. If any action is commenced to enforce any of the provisions of this Agreement, the prevailing party shall, in addition to its other remedies, be entitled to recover reasonable attorney’s fees.
  18. ADVICE OF COUNSEL. Employee acknowledges that Employee has had the opportunity to consult with counsel of his own choosing in the negotiation and preparation of this agreement; that employee has carefully read and fully understands its contents and its legal effect; and that employee enters into this agreement freely, voluntarily and without coercion.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, the undersigned parties to this Agreement hereinabove expressed, have entered into this Agreement without reservation and have read the terms herein.

EMPLOYEE :

EMPLOYER :

Should You Have an Employment Contract?

In general, it's a good idea to have an employment contract in place if you're giving money for work that's completed for your company. The employment contract lays out the terms for employment and, because it's legally enforceable, protects both parties. You may want to use an employment contract if:

  • You're hiring a new employee, and you want them to understand their duties and responsibilities.
  • You want a new employee to sign a confidentiality agreement.
  • You want to clearly communicate to a new employee that they're being hired " at will."
  • You want a formal agreement in place when you've only had a verbal or implied agreement in the past.

It is always our recommendation to seek professional help from a lawyer when dealing with employment contracts. These experienced professionals can help make sure your rights are best protected through their knowledge, training, and experience.

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Employment

Employment Contract

California

Asked on Oct 4, 2022

What is fixed term employment contract?

I have been given a contract that says 'Fixed Term Employment Contract'. How is this different than a normal employment contract? Is there anything I need to consider before signing this?

Christopher M.

Answered Oct 7, 2022

Generally a fix term employment contract differs from a genera employment contract in that it has an end date. For example, at-will contracts continue until you are fired or quit, while a fixed term contract only continues until the term expires. The main points to look at would be what they are classifying you as (employee vs contractor), the length of the term (so you know when the contract is up), and how to renew the contract or if there is an automatic renewal. It would also be good to double check the contract for termination clauses, as quitting may be more complicated under a fixed term contract. Ultimately, as with all contract matters it’s probably best to reach out to an attorney to review the document to get more specific answers to your concerns.

Read 2 attorney answers>

Employment

Employment Contract

New York

Asked on Apr 15, 2023

What should be included in my employment contract?

I am a small business owner looking to hire an employee for the first time. I have never written an employment contract before, so I am unsure of what should be included in the contract to ensure that it is legally binding and protects both the employee and me. I am looking for advice on what should be included in the contract to ensure that my interests and those of my employee are adequately protected.

Donya G.

Answered Apr 18, 2023

Hello, Congratulations on your business. Here are some things that need to be in the agreement - amount you will pay them, when you will pay, the term of the employment, confidentiality, non solicit. Since you have never done this before, I would like to suggest that you hire an attorney to get it done to ensure it is done correctly. I am a NY attorney with over 20 years of experience. I assist small businesses like yours with their employment, vendor, investment and all their contract needs. I would love to assist you. You can contact me on the Contracts Counsel website or on my personal page - Donya Gordon Looking forward to talking to and working with you Sincerely Donya Gordon

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Employment

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Florida

Asked on Apr 19, 2023

What's probationary period in an employment contract?

I am a recent college graduate who recently accepted a job offer from a company. As part of the offer, I was asked to sign an employment contract. I understand that the contract includes a probationary period, but I'm not sure what that entails. I would like to know what the probationary period is and what it means for me as an employee.

Diane D.

Answered May 10, 2023

A period of time to evaluate you and to show that you're a good fit for the job and that you are fully qualified for it. At the end of the probationary period, they will either keep you on or terminate you.

Read 1 attorney answer>

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Florida

Asked on Apr 17, 2023

What's the safety policy in an employment contract?

I recently accepted a job offer from a new employer and as part of the employment contract, I need to understand the safety policy in the workplace. I understand that safety policies in the workplace are important for the protection of both employees and employers, but I am not sure of the specific details of the safety policy included in my employment contract. I would like to know what safety policies are included in the contract in order to ensure that I have a safe working environment.

Diane D.

Answered May 2, 2023

Without seeing the contract, there is no way of knowing.

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Employment

Employment Contract

Colorado

Asked on Oct 4, 2022

Are employment contracts confidential?

I'm considering taking a second job but would not want my first employer to know. Is there any way for them to find out? I am not sure what all of the language in the contract says and may need to get it reviewed, but I wanted to see if these contracts are kept confidential so that my employer never finds out.

Donya G.

Answered Nov 1, 2022

Typically, yes. There s generally a confidential section in your employment agreement. Is there something specific you are worried about? You can have an attorney give a consultation, review the agreement and advise you. I can do that for you. You can connect with me through the website. Thanks Donya Gordon

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