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A guide on employment contracts in Northern Ireland

7 minute read

A guide on employment contracts in Northern Ireland

Have you just been offered a new job? Pay attention to your contract of employment

You have just been offered a new job, perhaps even your dream job. That tends to come with waves of excitement and a sense of achievement.

If you haven’t recently, chances are you have felt those things before.

Although you should enjoy it, it is helpful to pause and consider what is about to happen. You are going to enter a contract with an employer that could have far-reaching ramifications and even direct you down a new and unknown lifepath. That’s why it is important to ensure you understand that contract and agree to its contents before signing.

What follows are some areas you should pay particularly close attention to and why.  

Restrictive covenants

Restrictive covenants tend to be the area of the contract of employment most likely to be skimmed, or worse – skipped, when people read through it. Although they can, at times, seem boring and like they are included as a formality, it is important for potential employees to read them and understand their meaning.

Restrictive covenants include clauses and policies around things like:

  • Non-Competition – You are not allowed to work for a competitor for a period of time after your employment ends
  • Solicitation of customers – You are not allowed to approach clients to “follow you” for a period of time after your employment ends.

To be enforceable restrictive covenants require to be time-limited and within a defined geographical area. To what extent these clauses are enforceable depends on the drafting of these clauses.

Holidays and sickness 

You should be clear about your holiday and sick leave entitlement before signing the dotted line.

You are entitled to your statutory annual leave allowances, but many employers attach terms that restrict your use of these. For example, some companies insist on hours being retained for use around Christmas. Others don’t allow absence around certain times of year during which they are particularly busy. Some employers offer additional days beyond the statutory entitlement.

You are also entitled to statutory sick leave. Employers tend to have policies on how you report sickness to them. Lots of employers offer benefits around the topic of sickness, such as full sick leave.


Unless you were an agency worker, until recent years, work location would have been somewhat obvious. Working from home and hybrid models are now so common that the Labour Relations Agency introduced a practical guide to hybrid working. You should be aware of the policies on where you will be expected to work and whether these could change and what notice you would get before they do.   


There are laws that dictate much of what your employer can ask of you in terms of hours worked. However, these only go so far.

You should ensure that you are happy with the hours you will be required to work and the times you will be expected to start or finish. Lots of contracts for salaried professional positions will state that you are expected to work additional hours when necessary. You might wish to satisfy yourself on what is meant by this and if there are limitations

Salary and bonuses    

Perhaps the element of the employment contract deemed most important by the potential signatory is the salary. You should check that the salary that was agreed upon is stipulated, of course. You should go beyond that and ensure you are happy with other forms of remuneration such as bonus structure, including targets, and benefits such as healthcare, transportation and pensions that go further than the legal minimum requirement.

Job title and description

You should ensure that you are satisfied that your contract reflects the role you have been offered. Both the job title and description can form the basis of what you will be doing. They can also impact what you could be expected to do in the future. For this reason, it is important to ensure your title and description are not so vague that the employer, at some future time, can alter your role to the point it is something entirely different from what you thought you were agreeing to.

To fail to do this can and often does lead to employees finding themselves in scenarios where they obtain more duty and responsibility with none of the recognition or importantly the pay appropriate to these increased duties and responsibilities.

We are experts in contracts of employment

Contracts of employment are (mostly) legally binding documents and should be treated as such. You might even consider instructing an employment solicitor to review a contract before your sign to better protect you in the future. We are a firm of employment law solicitors, recognised as leading practitioners in this field. If you would like to know more about our services, visit our page on Employment Law.


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