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Read This Before You Sign Your Job Contract

Read carefully

Legal Ease

Congratulations! You got your dream job. Now, if you just sign here you can get started.

We don’t want to rain on your parade, but you should take a long look at that job contract. We know. It seems like it’s in another language. We asked Jonathan M. Cerrito, a partner at Blitman & King, employee benefits, labor and employment law firm, to clear a few things up for us.

Do you have to sign your contract right away?
The short answer is, no. It can be tempting to sign right away and display your eagerness to start the job, but Cerrito cautions against signing without taking a thorough look and ideally having a lawyer look it over too. “While it is normal to feel excited, optimistic, and even grateful to the employer at the time of hiring, contacts tend to rear their heads only when, for whatever reason, things have gone wrong at the workplace,” Cerrito told us. Basically. Read it over now. Thank us later.

“Employers should give you enough time for you and your lawyer to review and consider the terms of the contract,” he said. “While some employers understand this and will actually recommend that you have an attorney review the contract, others may prefer that you sign it on the spot so that everybody can get down to business.”

What language should I look out for?
“Classic red flags to look out for include restrictive covenants such as non-competition, non-solicitation, and non-disclosure clauses that survive the end of your employment,” Cerrito said. These clauses might make it hard for you to get another job or start your own business even after you’ve left the company.

“These provisions are not uncommon and often come with the territory, but it is important to make sure that you understand the breadth of the restrictions and if you are unable to negotiate them out or down, that you are getting enough in return to make it worthwhile,” said Cerrito.

“Non-compete clauses typically contain a temporal component (e.g., restricting competition for two years) and a geographical component (e.g., restricting competition within 100 miles),” said Cerrito. “Courts generally find one or two-year restrictions to be reasonable, but anything beyond that should raise flags.”

What’s the deal with “at will”?
Not all jobs come with job security. “One disturbing trend we have seen in our review of employment contracts for individual employees and executives is the inclusion of an ‘at will’ clause which essentially nullifies the job security you think you’re getting from a ‘term of employment’ provision,” said Cerrito.

“In other words, the contract will ostensibly provide for employment for a term of years but then also say that the employer can terminate the employment at any time for any reason. What you’re left with is not really a contract at all, at least in terms of job security.”

Can I make changes to a contract?
The short answer is, yes. And you should. One of the biggest mistakes hires make is not knowing they can pick and choose what to negotiate and when to compromise, said Cerrito.

If your employer won’t let you take your contract home and consider the terms, “that might be an indication that this would not be a good employer to work for,” said Cerrito.

Disclaimer: This post does not constitute legal advice and does not establish an attorney-client relationship.

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