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What if an employer wants me to sign a contract?

Most people are hired without having a written contract. But an employer may want you to sign a contract.

A contract might include things like:

  • your hours of work
  • whether the job includes shift work
  • where you will be working
  • how much vacation you will get
  • how much notice you will get if you are fired or laid off

Why an employer might want a contract

Here are some of the reasons why an employer may want you to sign a contract:

Reasons to sign a contract

If an employer wants you to sign a contract and you refuse, you might not get the job.

A contract could offer terms that are better than minimum employment standards. For example, an employer could offer you more than the minimum paid vacation days.

A contract could help prevent disputes between you and your employer about the terms of your job.

But a contract might not cover everything and it might have terms that are not legal. So the contract might not apply, even if you agreed to the things in the contract and signed it.

What needs to be in writing

There are some things that you can agree to only if they are in writing.

For example, there are basic rules about overtime pay. In most jobs, you earn 1 1/2 times your hourly pay for each hour of overtime that you work. But if you agree in writing, you can be given paid time off work instead of overtime pay.

Rights you cannot give up

There are some rights that you cannot agree to give up. For example, regardless of what you agree to in a contract, the following still apply:

And even if you sign something saying you're an "independent contractor", you still might have rights under the Employment Standards Act.

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1. Find out about your basic rights

The Employment Standards Act (ESA) has minimum standards that employers must follow. But not all jobs are covered by the ESA, and in some cases only parts of the ESA apply.

Find out what minimum standards apply to your job. For example, in most jobs you get at least 30 minutes off after every 5 hours of work.

Use the Ministry of Labour's online tool called Industries and Jobs with Exemptions or Special Rules to find out if your job is covered by the ESA and which parts of the ESA apply.

You can also call the Ministry's Employment Standards Information Centre at 1-800-531-5551, 416-326-7160, or 1-866-567-8893 (TTY).

Some industries are covered by federal laws. These are laws made by the Government of Canada and they apply throughout the country. These industries include banks, airlines, some trucking businesses, and broadcasting. The Government of Canada website has a more complete list.

Employers in these industries must follow the Canada Labour Code.

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2. Make sure you understand the contract

Read the contract carefully. Once you sign it, you might not be able to make changes unless your employer agrees.

You might want to ask for more time before signing the contract if:

  • you need help to understand what the contract says
  • you want to get legal advice about the contract

But an employer might want you to decide quickly. And if the employer cancels the job offer before you sign the contract, there might not be anything you can do.

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3. Think about changes to the contract

You might want to ask for changes to the contract before you sign it. For example, you might want the contract to say that you don't have to work night shifts.

But if an employer does not agree with your changes, they might not want to give you the job.

And even if you sign a contract, there are some rights that you'll still have. For example, if you agree to something that goes against human rights law, the law will still apply.

Or, if you agree to work for less than minimum wage, you will still have the right to be paid minimum wage.

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Reviewed: 
June, 2015

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