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Tips & Tricks: Offer Letters and Employment Contracts

SIGN ON THE DOTTED LINE, PLEASE


It’s happened to most of us. You've just received an exciting new job offer and your job search is finally over. You are brimming with excitement. A stack of papers is pushed across the table. Please sign here. You are so excited about the new opportunity that you quickly sign off on a number of documents; the offer letter, the contract, workplace policies and more. You skim through terms and conditions that you will regret not reading when in a few years, your employment is terminated.


In this article, I will tell you what to look for and when to consult with a lawyer before signing on the dotted line. Why should you care? Because employers are hiring lawyers to write iron clad employment contracts to protect themselves from having to pay large "severance packages" when they unilaterally terminate your employment a few years down the road.


Contract and unionized jobs will have different considerations than the ones I talk about below. Therefore, it’s important to recognize that this article is written with respect to non-union and non-contract work.





WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN YOUR NEXT OFFER LETTER OR EMPLOYMENT CONTRACT


You've landed the job. Things are looking up. So let's make sure that when/if that employment relationship ends, you can access the severance package you deserve.


These are my top four sections that you should pay attention to in your offer letter or employment contract:


1. Job Title: does the job title accurately represent what you have interviewed for and agreed to? A job title matters because it quickly identifies the type of work you are doing and is a factor in a wrongful dismissal application. Are you an analyst or a lead? Are you an associate or an executive? Are you a cashier or a sales person? You want to have clarity on what will appear on your resume if you need to seek work again in the future.


2. Salary: does the salary accurately reflect your negotiations? Are there benefits, vacation pay or other types of remuneration that you believed to be a part of the package? Will the employer pay for uniforms, travel or other expenses? If so, make sure they are included in the offer letter and/or employment contract.


3. Job Description and Duties: does the description match what you discussed in the hiring process? Are you supervising others or working independently? Make sure you have a clear understanding of your responsibilities and how your performance will be evaluated.


4. Termination and/or Resignation: this is the most important section in a job offer letter because it can limit your severance package if you give away your legal rights.


a) Resignation: A good letter will give you an idea as to how much notice you must give the employer before resigning. Typically, an employer will request 2 weeks notice but that doesn’t mean you will continue to work through that notice period. An employer can opt to send you home the day you present a resignation letter and pay you out for your notice period.


b) Termination: Employers will try to protect themselves from liability and large severance packages by including terms that waive your right to common law damages. Clauses that say “the payments and notice provided for in this paragraph are exclusive of your entitlements to notice, pay in lieu of notice and severance pay pursuant to the Employment Standards Act and any other legal remedyor “this is exclusive of all your entitlements including those under the common law” are examples of terms that you should avoid.


Employment legislation sets out the bare minimum entitlements when you are terminated from work. It is important that you retain the right to your “common law” entitlements, which are damages that a judge would order in a court of law, if you had to pursue a wrongful dismissal claim.


If you are confused about the offer letter or employment contract that you have been asked to sign, then exercise your right to have it reviewed by an employment lawyer. If your new employer denies you the opportunity to check with a lawyer, then make note of the fact that you signed under duress. Highlight or make notes of your concerns and keep a copy of all the relevant documents for future reference. A little extra work on the front end can save you money if and when that employment relationship ends.


Stacey A. Mirowski practices employment law in Ottawa, Eastern and Northern Ontario. Send an email to stacey@mirowskilaw.ca for your free consultation.

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