So you’ve finally landed a job after months of looking for one—and you’re expected to start work tomorrow. Maybe it’s your lucky stars, or the company is just really desperate to hire someone. Anyhow, you’re just grateful you have a job now.
You’re early to work the next day, and your employer gives you the contract of employment which he wants you to sign...instantly.
Everything you want to know about the job is in the contract—but your employer doesn’t give you time to read it. Fast forward 3 months, and you realise your mistake when your leave application was disapproved. Your contract states that no employee can take leave for the first 3 months.
The contract seems unfair, but you feel like it’s your fault for not reading it in the first place. But all this happened because you were never given time to read the contract. So the question is: How long does an employee have until he signs his employment contract?
Well, this would depend on what your job scope is…
Is the company looking to hire you ASAP?
If you’ve been working for a while now, you’d know that every employer must provide employees with a contract offering the job. The employee in return, can choose to either accept or reject the offer.
When you see a job posting online, the job available is an invitation to treat. If the employer provides you the job, he is making an offer. When you take the job, you’re technically accepting the offer. This agreement between you and your employer is legally binding.
Now, different companies have different means of employment. Some companies might only want part-time hires, while some look into longer periods of employment. Here’s a small, but important difference you need to note in employment contracts.
There are two types of contracts:
- Contract OF service
- Contract FOR service
In a contract OF service, both parties agree to have an employer-employee relationship. This applies to our usual full-time contracts and sometimes even part-time contracts. But a contract FOR service normally applies to freelance contracts.
Most of the time, you’d see part-time employees being hired immediately due to the nature of the job. So, the contract between the company and employee may have to be signed on the first day of the job.
Now that you know this, what happens if you’re forced to sign the contract without having time to read it first?
Your employer can’t force you to sign a contract immediately
If your employer timed a stopwatch for 30 seconds after giving you the contract, and takes it away from you the moment you sign it—your employer is said to have coerced (forced) you into signing the contract. Section 15 of the Contracts Act 1950 states:
If you have been forced by your employer to sign the contract, you can get away from the contractual obligations IF you manage to prove it. You will need to prove that your consent was not freely given due to the time constraint. If you can prove this, you’ll escape the contract even if you signed it without reading.
There are also times when the terms in the contract are unfair to one party. If this is the case, the contract will be considered unfair and becomes void. So if your employer writes a contract where you’re on the losing end, the courts will consider this as duress thus making the contract invalid.
But this does not mean you should blindly sign whatever your employer gives you…
Read the contract before signing it
Most of us are aware that if we sign a contract, we’re bound to the terms of the agreement—whether or not we’ve read and understood it. An old UK case might help illustrate this better.
In L’Estrange v F Graucob Ltd, Ms L’Estrange signed a contract with a company that supplies cigarette vending machines. Unfortunately, she failed to read the fine print in the contract that excludes any implied warranty (liability) for the company. The machine failed to work and she sued the company for the defective machine. But the UK Court did not favour Ms L’Estrange’s argument and stated this:
In Malaysia, the law also states similarly for contracts. Anyone who signs a contract is bound by the terms of the contract, even if they don’t read it.
So unless and until you prove that you’ve been forced to sign your employment contract by the employer, you will be bound by the contract.
[READ MORE FOR AN ALTERNATIVE OPTION: Is there a legal way to skip the notice period when you resign in Malaysia?]