Are unsigned employment contracts enforceable?

If you issue an employee with a new contract of employment, or a variation to their current one, is it enforceable if they fail to sign it?

It is prudent for employers to require employees to sign and return a copy of their written contract to avoid ambiguity about what has been agreed between the employer and employee. Despite this there is no legal requirement for a contract to be signed. 

A contract of employment does not need to be signed for it to be a binding agreement between the parties as acceptance of its terms can be either verbal or implied through conduct. That is if an employee works in accordance with the terms of the contract without protest you can presume that they are accepted.  It is still however advisable to avoid any argument or disagreement in the future by keeping a signed contract for each employee. 

A case example where debate regarding an unsigned employment contract occurred involves employee Wess v Science Museum Group 2014. In this case the employee, who started working for the group in 1979 was issued with a new contract following a regrading exercise that the notice period to end employment to twelve weeks, replacing the six months previously provided in the old contract. Despite appealing against the grading of her job she had never actually objected to the change in her notice period and continued to work for another 9 years without signing the new contract. In this case, Mrs Wess was eventually dismissed with twelve weeks’ notice. The employment tribunal found that by working in accordance with the terms of her contract for nine years and not protesting the changes in the length of the period, she had accepted them. 

This case is an example of where if an employer issues a contract and the employee works under it, the terms of that contract are likely to be deemed to have been agreed and accepted. Likewise, employees cannot argue that the fact they never signed their contract means that they do not have to carry out duties under it and is likely to come down to an evaluation of the facts such as the extent the parties have accepted other terms of the contract by acting in accordance with them .

To summarise although it is always good practice to ensure a contract of employment is signed to avoid doubt. Contracts can usually be enforced even if it is not signed by the employee.

If you are an employer or employee in need of advice on employment matters such as dismissal, redundancy, contracts or anything else then please contact our expert employment lawyer Umberto Vietri

Umberto Vietri
Employment, company & commercial
Email: Tel: 01535 613 674