Understanding your letter of appointment

Please do not resign before you receive a copy of your letter of appointment. Make sure that you read it carefully and that you query anything that concerns you. You have the right to negotiate your terms of employment. This is sage advice from somebody who has been recruiting in the industry for many years. I have seen offers withdrawn leaving the candidate unemployed and I have seen changes to letters of employment which were not agreed to in discussions.

You also need to understand your rights in terms of the BCEA (Basic Conditions of Employment Act) to ensure that nothing in the contract takes away your basic rights in terms of labour law.

Everyone who goes into an employee relationship is expecting that there will be great opportunities and success, but just as we go into marriage expecting that we will be happy forever after, there is an anti-nuptual agreement which gives guidelines on what will happen if you have to get divorced. When you read your letter of appointment make sure that it protects you when the relationship is no longer rosy and you are wanting to resign, or worse, the company wants to dismiss you. Query those parts of the contract which don’t seem fair before you finally accept the employment offer.

These are the ten things to check before you sign your letter of appointment:

Is there a restraint of trade and exactly what does it mean if you resign and work for a competing company? (Where else are you going to be able to use your skills).
Does it have a clause requiring that you compensate the employer for the cost of your recruitment if you leave before the end of a determined period. (This is illegal).
What are the terms of the probation clause? Do they seem reasonable?
What is the disciplinary code and the terms of dismissal? (Many letters still have a 24 hour notice period in the first month. The minimum notice period in the BCEA is 7 days).
What does the letter say about the right to search, test for drugs or undergo polygraph testing?
Does it have a clause requiring that, should you have a dispute with the Company, you have to pay for private arbitration? (Effectively preventing you from approaching the CCMA).
Do you fully understand the bonus and/or commission clauses?
Does the letter prevent you from having other sources of income? Do you have to get written permission for any business interests you may have outside of your full-time job?
Does the letter have a clause relating to the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI)?
Does the letter ask for you to comply with policies that you have not been able to read?

Letters of appointment (or Contracts of Employment) have, in terms of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA), to contain certain details. These are listed in clause 29 of the Act and refer to an employee’s conditions of employment. However, what employees often miss are the clauses in a letter of appointment that are designed to protect the employer. They also fail to understand that once they have signed the letter they have agreed to these clauses and that, as with any other contract, the agreement is enforceable in a court of law.