This checklist for RCN members will help you assess a new contract of employment before you sign it.
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. You can read more about contracts (including when they can be changed) here.Back to contents
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 at www.nhsemployers.org/tchandbook and read our advice about Agenda for Change here.Back to contents
This checklist may help you evaluate the contents of any contract before you commit yourself. Remember:
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:
Employers often require new employees to complete a probationary period before they will confirm them in post. If you are being offered an Agenda for Change contract check the ‘preceptorship’ section of the terms and conditions (preceptorship in Northern Ireland and Scotland differs to England and Wales). 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:
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.
Holiday entitlement varies widely. For the minimum entitlements please see our page annual leave and holiday pay. If you are being offered an Agenda for Change contract, see www.nhsemployers.org/tchandbook for leave entitlements.
In general check:
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.
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 because the clauses are only relevant after you have left. But take care to read the whole contract carefully.
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 for support and advice on 0345 772 6100.
It would also be useful to check the following workplace policies:
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.Back to contents