Contracts of Employment (Northern Ireland) – The Essentials

Last updated: September 27th, 2023

The fundamental rule of employment law is that all employees must sign an employment contract with their employer. The term ‘employee’ is defined in Article 3(1) of the Employment Rights (NI) Order 1996 as an individual who has entered into or works under (or, where the employment has ceased, worked under) a contract of employment. As a result, a true employee is a separate entity from a self-employed person or an agency worker.

The employment contract, while treated as an element of employment law, is generally governed by the law of contract. The rights and duties contained within are referred to as the terms of the contract. There are various different types of contractual terms and an employment contract usually comprises of a mixture of these. They are express terms, terms implied by the court, terms implied by statute and terms implied by custom and practice.

Express terms are those which are directly agreed upon, either orally or in writing, by the employer and the employee.

In certain situations, a term which is not expressly stated in an employment contract can be implied into it. Such a term can be implied by the court, by statute or by custom and/or practice.

A term implied by the court is one which is not expressly stated but, in the view of the court, the parties must have intended to include it to bring business reality to the contract.

A term implied by statute is one which is not expressly stated but is automatically implied due to the working of a statute. Examples include employees’ rights stemming from equal pay legislation.

A term implied by custom and/or practice is one which is not expressly stated but is implied after an investigation into the customs and practice of the business. Therefore, a term could be implied into an employment contract if its effect is already in force in the employment relationship or in the employment relationship of co-workers.

Terms which can be implied into an employment contract cover matters such as:

  • Acting honestly.
  • Taking reasonable care in relation to health and safety in the workplace.
  • Not to act, or force another to act, in an illegal manner.
  • Taking reasonable care in completing tasks at work.
  • Not acting in a manner which can lead to the breakdown of trust or the relationship between employer and employee.

In addition to, or as part of, the contract of employment, Article 33 of the Employment Rights (NI) Order 1996 states that every employee whose continuous employment totals one month or more must be provided with a written statement of their employment particulars by their employers. An employee must be given a copy of such a statement and sign it within the first two months of their employment.

As stated in Article 33 of the 1996 Order, a written statement of employment particulars must include the following information:

  • The names and addresses of the employer and the employee.
  • The date on which employment began.
  • The date on which the period of continuous employment began.
  • The scale or rate of remuneration.
  • The intervals at which remuneration is paid.
  • Hours of work and related terms and conditions such as normal working hours.
  • Paid holiday entitlement including public holidays and holiday pay.
  • Entitlements to sick leave including sick pay.
  • Details of pensions and pension schemes.
  • Entitlement of the employer and employee to notice of contract termination.
  • Job title and job description.
  • Where employment is not permanent, the period for which it is expected to continue or the period at which it is set to end.
  • The place, or places, of work where the employee is entitled to work.
  • Details of any collective agreements directly affecting the terms and conditions of employment.
  • Details relating to the terms and conditions of an employee who is to work abroad for a period of at least one month where appropriate.
  • Details of the employer’s dispute resolution procedures, including the employee’s point of contact under such procedures.

It is not necessary for a written statement of particulars to quote all this information in full. However all the information must be referred to and the employee must be told where they can find full information, such as in a staff or company handbook.

Typically, employers issue their employees with these particulars as part of their wider contract of employment.

If you have any issues or queries relating to contracts of employment in Northern Ireland, please contact the advice line on
+44 (0)28 9032 5495

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