Employment contracts are not all that common, especially in "at will" employment states like Alabama. But, if an employer is willing to enter into an employment agreement of some type, it is important to know that the terms of that agreement are negotiable. Unfortunately, many people out in the workforce simply assume that the proposed employment agreement is a "standard form," and cannot be negotiated. People merely sign the document as it is presented to them, even though there may be terms with which they do not agree.
While you may be anxious to sign an employment contract and get started on your new job, you should still take the time to look at the terms of the contract. Not everything is written in stone.
Which terms can I negotiate?
Most job applicants understand that salary and most other benefits are negotiable. Some of us are lucky enough to successfully negotiate the offered salary higher. If you have never considered this, however, you should never assume that the salary is fixed. Normally, it cannot hurt to ask, as long as your requested salary is reasonable. The same goes with bonuses, vacation days and other benefits. There are also several other employment clauses that can usually be negotiated, some of which can be very important.
Some employers routinely place their new hires on probationary status for a specified period of time. This period allows supervisors or managers to closely evaluate the skill and progress of a new employee before making a long-term commitment to their employment. Some of the characteristics most employers look for during this period are honesty, reliability, and temperament. In some cases, probationary periods may be waived, if the employer has some prior knowledge of that employee and his or her capabilities.
When you are starting a new job, the last thing you probably think about is your severance from that position. However, these terms can be crucial and should not be overlooked. Some employers include severance clauses that will significantly limit the amount of any severance to be paid if the employee separates from the company. If you are unclear about these terms and, more importantly, the implications of signing away any rights, you should consult with an employment attorney about the terms of the severance agreement before you sign.
Contrary to what many believe, non-compete agreements can be enforced in Alabama. Signing a non-competition agreement or a "non-solicitation" agreement can have an enormous impact on your future job opportunities after leaving your current employer. Fortunately, these clauses may also be negotiable, particularly the proposed time and geographical limitations.
Should I have an attorney review the contract?
It is always a good idea to have an attorney review a legal document before signing, when the terms can have a serious effect on your future. Be sure, the employer's attorney drafted the agreement, so why shouldn't you have an attorney to discuss the terms with you before you agree to it? The clauses discussed in this post are only a few issues to consider when signing an employment agreement. An experienced employment attorney can point out any other problematic clauses, and explain your options before you agree to the legally binding terms of the contract. Otherwise, when that employment ends, you may be faced with a below-market severance payment, enforceable restrictions on your subsequent employment opportunities, and no real legal options.
If you advice regarding an employment agreement, or if you have any questions regarding your employment rights, please contact Wrady & Michel, LLC, either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.