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Contract checklist: 10 things to check before you sign

This checklist will help you assess a new contract of employment before you sign it.


We believe that the nursing workforce should be recognised and valued through fair pay, terms and conditions (Standard 4 RCN Nursing Workforce Standards).

A contract is a legally binding document. You should always read any contract fully and make sure you understand it before you sign it. This checklist may help you evaluate the contents of a contract before committing yourself. Please also see our advice about existing contracts (including when they can be changed).

If you have been offered overseas work, read more about contracts and working overseas.

NHS employees 

If you are employed by the NHS it is likely that you will be offered a contract that incorporates the national NHS terms and condition of service, or a document that mirrors those terms if you are not directly employed in the NHS. You can check the full terms and conditions and read our advice about Agenda for Change.


During your employment your employer is vicariously liable (is responsible) for your actions and omissions and should have appropriate indemnity insurance in place to cover you. You can read more about this in the RCN indemnity terms and conditions. If there are any concerns about you cover, raise these before you sign and contact us if there are any problems.


A secondment is the name given to temporary work that is assigned to an employee in a different area from which they are already working in. You can use the below tips to help you check a secondment offer. Read more about secondment contracts.

This checklist may help you evaluate the contents of any contract before you commit yourself. Remember:

  • Never sign a contract that you do not fully understand.
  • Never sign a contract that has blank spaces.
  • Don't place any reliance on verbal promises. You cannot prove these.
  • Watch out for repayment clauses which could be enforced if you want to leave.
  • Ask for copies of any documents or policies referred to within the contract.
  • Make sure that you ask for written clarification if you need to.
  • Put all objections in writing so there is a paper trail.

The job description should be detailed enough to give you a good idea of what the job involves. Check that the role does not impose added responsibilities that you can’t or don’t want to do. Check it carefully along with the job title.

Consider the following questions:

  • Does the contract state the nursing specialty and site you will be working in?
  • Do you have a base of work? What about commuting during work time? Also see ‘place of work’ below.
  • Does the contract allow the employer to change your area of work without your agreement? Most NHS Trust contracts state they can move staff within the Trust and this is commonly referred to as a ‘mobility clause’.

Employers often require new employees to complete a probationary period before they will confirm them in post.

If you are a newly qualified nurse and you are offered an NHS contract, also check the ‘preceptorship’ section of your terms and conditions.

It is important to note that your continuity of employment should start on your first day of work, not when the probationary period has ended.

In general check:

  • If there is a probationary period? How long is it and what support will you get?
  • If there is any pay increase at the end?
  • Can it be extended?
  • Does the termination of contract arrangements differ during this period?
  • Does the employer have the right to terminate employment without any reasonable cause during this period?

You can read more about probation in our contract advice guide and our capability and performance guide.

It's really important to check that the contract reflects the salary that was stated in your offer letter. Employers do make mistakes and once signed it can be time consuming to resolve this.


  • Is the salary you have been offered on a scale or is it a fixed salary?
  • Is the salary performance related? What are the targets? Who sets these?
  • What will your net salary be?
  • Check any other benefits that have been agreed, such as an enhanced pension, car, private health cover, equity or share options, bonuses and commission payments.
  • Check if bonuses are guaranteed or discretionary.

Holiday entitlement varies widely.  For the minimum entitlements please see our page annual leave and holiday pay. Please also see the NHS terms and conditions if you are employed under an NHS contact. You may wish to check:

  • how much leave you will get and whether or not public holidays are included in this
  • the process for booking annual leave
  • whether you are limited on when you can take leave. If you have holidays booked, clarify this before you accept the role
  • when the holiday year runs from. For example, is it from 1 January to 31 December? This will dictate what balance of holiday you have left to take in the first year that you start your job
  • whether you are prevented from taking holidays at certain times of the year for example at busy periods or over Christmas
  • whether there is an entitlement to carry over any untaken holiday into the following year
  • whether you are entitled to carers/compassionate leave and whether this is paid or unpaid.

Check the hours of work. Be careful not to agree to a working pattern that you will later regret. It’s best to negotiate a variation now if necessary particularly if you require flexible working arrangements.

Also check:

  • the shift patterns and times. Can you manage these or do you need to look at some adjustments via flexible working application? Clarify before you sign.
  • if you are required to do overtime, and if you will be paid for this. If you are employed in the NHS, see section 3 of the NHS terms and conditions for overtime entitlements.

  • What does your contract say about your place of work or your base?
  • Can your employer move you?
  • If you are a community nurse, what does your contract say about travelling time during the day or to and from your base?
  • Check if you are entitled to petrol allowances.
  • If working remotely at home is a possibility and something you have discussed, then the contract should reflect this.

The start date should be clearly stated on the contract, plus whether any previous employment counts towards your continuity of employment. There will also be a termination date if it is a fixed term contract.

If it is a fixed term contact, check if there are options for it to be extended and if they will notify you of this before end of the contract. 

Being off work for long periods could have significant repercussions for you.

Some employers are very supportive but other employers will rely on just statutory minimum requirements. If the employer has a poor sickness policy you might want to think about getting other cover.

What notice do you have to give? Some contracts ask for 3 months.  A notice period that is too long could hamper you being able to take up a new job, and too short a period may not give you enough stability.

Ordinarily, unless the contract states otherwise, either party can supply notice of termination of 1 week in writing within the first two years’ service. Thereafter, it is one week’s notice for each year of continuous service up to a maximum of 12 weeks.

It’s easy to brush over this area when signing a new contract. Take care to read the whole contract carefully.

Some contracts contain repayment clauses which come into force should you wish to leave the employer. These can be time specific but substantial. They often relate to previous training or other costs incurred by the employer. If you are not happy with the clause, try to renegotiate. Read more about repayment clauses on our contracts page. 

Examples of 'restrictive covenants' are clauses that say you can’t work for a competitor or have contact with customers for a period of time after the contract ends.

Gagging clauses are unlawful and cannot be enforced in public interest disclosure cases. If you think that a gagging clause is being proposed, we strongly advise you to contact us.

If you have been offered overseas work, read more about working overseas.

It would also be useful to check the following workplace policies:

  • Uniform
  • Lease car
  • Flexible working
  • Sickness policy
  • Disciplinary and Grievance
  • Collective Agreements

Finally, consider if there is access to trade union representatives. If you are in the independent sector ask if there is a recognition agreement with the RCN. Even if no agreement exists you can still contact us for advice and you are still entitled to RCN representation in the workplace in certain circumstances.

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Page last updated - 12/06/2024