Why you should read your contract before signing

Friday August 31 2018

Read and understand. Signing a contract that

Read and understand. Signing a contract that you have not taken time to read might turn out problematic in future. PHOTO BY Abubaker Lubowa.  

By Zuurah Karungi

“When I got a job after three years of searching, I was so excited that I just signed the contract without reading it. This was perhaps the biggest mistake I have ever made because I got subjected to a lot of work, which I could have refused if I had read my contract well,” shares Ivan Kiiza*.
Like, Kiiza, many people do not read job contracts before signing. Others do not bother demanding for contracts and appointment letters because they think all that matters is getting the job. However, getting a contract, and reading it, is as important as getting the job.
Herbert Zake, a human resources consultant, at Steadfast Quality Solutions Limited, notes that it is important for a new employee to request for an employment contract as this will clearly spell out the duties, responsibilities and expectations from the employer and the employee to minimse misunderstandings and set parameters for the interaction between both parties. He adds that it is equally important for one to read and understand the terms and conditions as stipulated in the contract.
The employer would want to bring the new employee on board as quickly as possible so as to get on with the business. They will want the employee to sign the contract in the shortest time possible. However, it is best not to append your signature in a hurry. The employment contract will have quite a number of clauses and it is best to read and understand them when you are not under pressure.

Need for second eye
Zaake notes that it is advisable that you “sleep over” it to read and fully understand the contents and their implications after the excitement has subsided. It is also good to have someone else take a look so that you both have a common understanding of what it entails. This could be a spouse, a friend or better still a lawyer, especially where you do not understand the contents of some of the clauses. The other advantage of a lawyer taking a look at it is that they will ensure that the clauses are aligned to the applicable employment laws and that you are not unnecessarily disadvantaged. Some of the clauses and stipulations in the contract could be negotiable and a lawyer can guide you in this process.

Agreement between two parties
According to Edward Kyamanywa, a lawyer, a contract is an agreement between two parties, which they all have to abide by. He notes that one should read their contracts carefully before signing or if possible involve a lawyer since there could be clauses that are too complex for a person without law knowledge. “For example, about the right number of hours an employee is supposed to work, the age, work conditions, mode of payment (the how and when) among others and it needs one to know the law to interpret some of them,” he adds.
According to Lucy Asiimwe, an HR at Ministry of Public Service, one should thoroughly read their contract to know what is expected of them. She says with this, one will not be overworked since they have learnt what their jobs requires of them. And in case you are not comfortable with any of the terms in the contract, you can ask for an adjustment.

Stricting clauses
Zaake notes that there could be a clause prohibiting you from working for a competitor for a specified time after leaving the current employer. There could be a clause bonding you to remain with the company for a given period after they have trained you. Such clauses will put you at a disadvantage should you want to leave the organisation to pursue other career interests.
He adds that the contract could bar you from engaging in any other gainful employment or work that you can do in your own free time. This could for example, imply that you cannot lecture in a university or teach in a school at the weekend.
“Where there is no employment contract, the employer can easily take advantage of and exploit the employee. The employer could also terminate the services of the employee at will. This can be made worse if the employee is ignorant of employee laws, which is most likely to be the case,” he says.
Zaake emphasizes that it is advisable for the new employee to ask the employer as many questions as possible so that they clearly understand all clauses in the employment contract before signing it, well knowing that it is a binding document. That way there is clarity on both parties in terms of the expectations from the offset.

*Not real name