People, in general, could be divided on a multitude of opinions, ranging from dog vs cat lovers to the Brazil vs Argentinian soccer team. But one thing everyone will unanimously agree upon is that searching for a job is one of the most frustrating experiences one can have.
And if you are a veteran job hunter then you know that getting an offer could feel like a divine miracle (Read how recruitment works). One that doesn’t come upon you so often. It is understandable, hence, that the most organic reaction to you’re hired would be to pop open the bubblies and ask your local DJ vaale babu to play your song.
And while the merry making is still alive, you could casually take a look at the Appointment Letter and be eager to sign on the dotted line as long as you finally have a job.
You could be tempted to just read the first line congratulating you and jump right to the end to I Agree to everything I didn’t read!!
The only problem with this is that unlike the declarations you usually never read while downloading a phone app, these actually matter. Let’s just be candid and state that if you put your name on an agreement without reading what it entails, you could be looking at major grief for a period you are not aware of ‘coz you didn’t read the employment contract in the first place. You see the problem there?
You want the job. Consequently you have to sign the terms of the appointment. You cannot decide to pick and choose your terms. The best you can do is negotiate and have them restate them (Read these tips on salary negotiation).
Sometimes, however, there is enough legal mumbo-jumbo, in there, to make your head go spinning harder than any wild partying can account for. And more often than not it is not possible to ask your future employers for clarifications. You see you also don’t want to appear difficult to work with. It is a catch 22 situation really.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t approach contract lawyers or outside help. It is always better to be cautious lest you or your employer ever turn up in a situation where there is any possible breach of contract.
Most companies use a very standard appointment letter format that have pretty standard terms and conditions. Nevertheless it is certainly recommended that you read your letter carefully and look for vague and unfavorable clauses that can bite you later. These could appear to be standard clauses that can actually become quite formidable if someone decides to exercise them in a more legal setting – you know, the home of all things contractual.
Here are a few important look outs that can help you from voluntarily stepping into a possible arbitration, the legal term for massive pile of manure! Take these as a go-to guide for things to not-skim-over when you are handed the appointment and offer letter by the HR department.
10 things to consider before you sign your Appointment Letter
1. Job description and role
When you do get that offer and appointment letter, do make sure that you have been hired for the job you interviewed for. For instance, if you have been hired on a supporting role in a theatre production, make sure that the details of the job description are spelled out.
You might be expecting to get the breakthrough character role while all they have in mind is for you to hold the ladder while the lighting team fixes up the ceiling lights, you know the ones that will be shining the limelight on someone else!
You want to take that up with the HR department? Good luck. Technically it is a “supporting” role.
The letter should be spelled out clearly. Job Description: Will be working in the technical division in so-n-so with duties ranging from so-n-so.
2. Period of appointment
Generally all appointment letters should have a starting date. And if this is a fixed period employment then that should be stated clearly. It just means that you are going to be employed for that period and if either party wanted to terminate the employment any sooner, then there should be clear clauses under which that could be exercised.
For example it is not enough to state that the employer can, at will, terminate your position before the end date. There should be a clause to show a relevant cause for ending your employment prior to the said contract conditions.
Similarly you need to understand that you may not be able to leave as and when you wish too. You may be looking for a better position elsewhere, on the side, and it may so happen that you indeed get a call from that dream company you have always wanted to work for.
Remember that since you are now bound for the fixed term of employment, you may have to complete your obligatory period before you can leave. So know your clauses well or else just kiss your dream team goodbye!!
What are the terms of secondary employment, if any? Once you have signed and basically handed over your life for the next 1 to 3 years (obligatory legal joke), are you free to pursue a second job? Imagine working in a cosmetic company that tells you which hair gel to use! What if you prefer their competitor’s?
A lot of employment contracts specify that you cannot work, contribute or even buy stock in a competing company, while you are working for them. Some even state that you cannot have a second occupation at all. Perhaps out of fear that you may end up investing more time in it than theirs. Or maybe they are just a bunch of five year olds who love to go mine-mine-mine.
Whatever it is, make sure that these terms are not in conflict with your own freedom of pursuing what you want in your own time.
4. Hours of employment
Aah! That brings us to the concept of your own time! What does the letter say? Monday to Friday? Flexible days/hours? Work from home? It is easy to assume that the hours will be just like any normal working period, 9 to 5.
But if you are not careful, don’t be surprised if your work from home flexibility turns out to be a curse in disguise and you get called over the weekends and sometimes even in the middle of the night. You signed up for it, didn’t you?
For that matter, what is the vacation policy? Does it specify your casual, earned and sick leaves? Do they roll over or are you going to have to see them shrivel and die on the last day of each year. And is it just your normal calendar year or a year from when you join?
Yes, these are too many questions but hey don’t say we didn’t warn you when you are denied a time off for your honeymoon! If you don’t read your terms and sign, you maybe scheduling your own wedding after 6pm, or whenever your client meeting gets over!! (Read about corporate slavery)
5. Relocation clause
Was there any mention of willing to work from anywhere? Most companies require you to specify if you are okay to be relocated for work. If you are not sure, it is best to find out from existing employees on the frequency and locations in particular.
If relocation means working from the far office, twenty miles away, for 3 days a week, that’s one thing. If it is working from China for six months in a year, that’s another.
6. Salary, medical and other compensation
Is your cost to company (CTC) spelled out in detail? Do they mention raise, bonuses and medical benefits clearly?
Sometimes they may just talk about your base salary and leave the other details ambiguous. Yearly bonus based on review. Oh goody! But what’s the review based on?
7. Notice period
Is it too long or too short? ‘Coz it really goes both ways. If it is too long then you will have trouble moving on to a new company. Would they really wait for six months before you show up?
If the notice period is too little, it is possible that you are asked to leave with a window of a day or two. A reasonable notice period, say a month or so, would give both you and your employer time to recover and find something or someone else.
8. Non-compete clause
This one is generally for the specialized workers, technical or otherwise. There are certain companies who make it a part of your appointment clause to forbid you from working for a competitor, once you leave.
In other words, if this is all you know and if you ever want to switch your workplace, you will probably have to wait a certain specific period before you can find yourself relevantly employed again. So you may have to sell pizza for the “noncompete period” while switching between two digital research jobs!
9. Non-disclosure Agreement
This one is obvious. Companies generally don’t want you to go blabbing about their intellectual property or trade secrets to their competitors, or anyone really.
While this is a reasonable expectation from you, nevertheless you should probably read the details of the non-disclosure agreement carefully. Sometimes they may even prevent you from talking about salary structures or which brand of coffee is currently being used to keep the employees awake…at 3am.
10. Publishing/patenting conflicting research
And finally there is that iddy-biddy thing about your freedom to your own inventions, patents, research and contents. Often whatever new funky discovery you make in your back yard, while employed in a relevant company, may become officially theirs.
Yes, it sucks! But that’s how it is. You see you belong to the company and so does your brain and its byproducts. You may get your credit but the research may just become part of their confidential material, or perhaps not as open source as you might have liked it to be.
So again, read your contract carefully to see if you should just inform your company about a work in progress, from when you were not so much a part of them. That way you might be able to claim what is yours and maybe hold off on wearing the Einstein hat until you feel you can get your due credit.
In the end, employment contracts, offer letters, appointment letters, or whatever you want to call them, should not be treated casually. They may seem like an unnecessary nuisance, to understand, if all you really want to do is work for the company anyway.
But if you ignore them, they have the capacity to make your experience quite sour. The aforementioned points are not exhaustive. So talk to your friends, potential coworkers and even consult an attorney if you have to, but make sure you are aware of what you are signing up for. Else you might be back in a few months requesting your DJ for some Ghalib instead…
Hazaron khwahishein iss company ke, ke har khwahish pe dum nikle.