toxic jobs

Personal stories about toxic jobs and workplace woes.

April 14, 2008

read work contract carefully!

Joy is 37, married with three young children, and she earns very good money doing contract work, but much of it involves some pretty toxic jobs.

"Primarily, I'm working for money to put towards my children’s college fund," explains Joy. "I don't want them ending up with an education debt."

"My husband, David, earns good money and doesn't want me to work full-time," explains Joy, "so contract work is a great way for me to make big money as well as keep up with my other duties."

"I put all the money I earn into an education fund," explains Joy. "I don't need anything for myself, David gives me plenty of money."

"I'd like to work for personal fulfillment as well," says Joy, "but I've long given up expecting contract work to be great for my self-esteem and social life."

"When I take on a contract job now all I want to know is exactly how much money I'm going to get and how long I will be required to work."

Joy has become an expert on contracts after the various jobs she has had.

"An unfair work contract," says Joy, "is one in which employers do not state fully all terms and conditions, or go to great lengths to state your responsibilities to them but omit their responsibilities to you."

Joy says that the reason why so many employers do not state fully all terms and conditions in a contract is that they do not wish to be held to anything, or become legally responsible for anything they have promised but have no intention of delivering.

"I am amazed at the difference between my employment contracts," laughs Joy. "Some are ten pages long setting out everything I needed to know, and some are merely a few sentences in length stating only salary and period of employment."

"For a short-term job of a month's duration," says Joy, "salary and period of employment is probably the only information I need to know, but without something simple as 'hours of work' I am very aware of the fact that I may end up working ten hours a day for the entire period."

"Yes, this happens, " says Joy, "and David was mad with me for working so late. I didn't have a leg to stand on because 'hours of work' were not in my contract."

"Also, because it was a workplace where everyone was expected to work late I didn't feel it was worth complaining about. It was, after all, just a short-term job."

"However, when I was offered a continuing contract I declined to take it up," laughs Joy. "Working ten hours a day was not my idea of a perfect job and my family life was suffering as a result of it."

"For a work contact of three month's duration or more," says Joy, "I really need to have as much information in writing as I can, and I make sure that it is a mutual agreement not one that is heavily slanted in favor of the employer."

"For instance," explains Joy, "it is vitally important to be aware of the terms of termination. In my present contract it states in words to the effect that if the project is completed before the specified date of contract termination then the employer has the right to terminate employment immediately."

"Bearing in mind that the project in question is ongoing, requiring far more than the six month's contract given, I felt that this is unfair and unethical. It means that the employer is asserting the right to determine at which stage the project can be deemed 'completed'."

In other words, Joy would slog her guts out for four months getting the project off the ground, and then the employer would deem the project to be 'completed' and effectively not only deny Joy the right to set the project in motion but also deny her a further two months of employment, pay and entitlements.

"Needless to say," laughs Joy, "under these unfair conditions I am taking my own sweet time on the project and making sure it is nowhere near completed in six months!"

"I am also skeptical about a contract maintaining an employer's right to 'terminate employment immediately' upon what he deems to be a satisfactory stage of project completion, without making this right mutual?"

"If I wanted to finish the project quickly and get home to David and the kids," says Joy, "My employer could deny me that right because my estimation of a 'completed' project may not match his."

Bearing in mind the amazing requirements that employers often demand of us - security checks, confidentiality agreements, declarations of conflict of interest, birth certificate, passports, medical examinations, etc - in addition to signing our lives away for a specified period of time, Joy says it is grossly unfair to be offered a contract that neither fully states all terms and conditions nor takes account of mutual obligations.

For lengthy contract work Joy feels that the following information is necessary in a work contracts: salary, date of commencement and agreed date of termination, hours of employment, length of time allowed for a lunch-break, days of employment (e.g. Monday to Friday), job specification (setting out the precise function and duties of the job), entitlements (e.g. Public holidays, sick pay, holiday pay, superannuation, etc), training (e.g. formal or on-the-job), employer occupational health and safety compliance, performance review (stating when and how your work will be assessed), termination (setting out the precise period of notice both you and the employer need to give, and variations depending upon precise breaches of contract by either you or the employer).

Joy says that if a contract does not contain this basic information and she suspects that an employer is taking unfair advantage of her, she then seeks clarification in writing of the information omitted in her contract.

"If a reasonable request for further detail is refused," explains Joy, "then I refuse to take the job on the basis that I risk being miserable in it and would end up having to seek legal advice in order to get out of the contract."

"In a very early contract job I had," laughs Joy, "I hated it and I had to pay a lawyer more than I earned in order to break the contract."

"I feel very sorry for women who do contract work out of necessity," sighs Joy. "I don't have to work, and that's why I can pick and choose the jobs I do - and when I get into trouble I can afford to pay the lawyers!"

This story first appeared as unfair work contracts

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