Although Texas employers hire many workers on an “at-will” basis to make it easier to dismiss them (for reasons that doesn’t violate governing statutes), they also still provide employment contracts to others. After all, a well-drafted employment contract helps employers clearly establish what’s expected of their employees and makes it easier to protect proprietary information when workers leave.
If your company prefers to negotiate employment contracts with highly skilled employees, try to first meet with a Houston employment law attorney so that all of your most important needs and interests can be protected during the hiring process. And always be sure to communicate carefully with prospective employees since it’s easy to accidentally convey contract terms you may not have intended.
Before reviewing some of the important terms that should be included in most Texas employment contracts, it’s wise to note how some employment contract terms can become binding when set forth outside of contracts.
Ways employers may convey certain employment terms to job applicants or new hires
Always carefully review the following ways that your company may be granting certain rights you didn’t intend to include in your formal employment contacts.
- Through verbal agreements. Only allow a limited number of interviewers and other hiring staff to discuss key employment terms that may or may not be set forth in writing;
- Statements made in offer letters. Always reread these before sending them out to make sure they do not contradict what’s in your written employment contract;
- Provisions set forth in your employee handbook. (You should periodically ask your attorneys to review this material – to be sure it’s still current regarding new laws and recent court decisions);
- All emails and faxes sent to prospective employees or new hires;
- Statements made on workplace job notice boards.
While this list isn’t intended to be comprehensive, it should remind you that all written materials and formal conversations with applicants and new hires must be conducted carefully.
Here’s a look at some the terms you must properly address in your contracts.
Written employment contracts should always address these key terms and conditions
- All core duties and responsibilities of the employee. It’s often wise to also note when the employee’s performance will be evaluated. For example, after the first 30 to 60 days – and then at other stated intervals;
- Pay rate. This should be carefully discussed while making the initial offer and then documented in the employment contract;
- All employee benefits, such as healthcare and stock options, should be listed and at least briefly explained;
- Work locations and hours. If rotating shifts are required or if you strictly forbid working from home – you should set forth all these relevant restrictions;
- Clear information indicating how employee disciplinary actions will normally be handled;
- Reimbursement of approved expenses. If you do not cover any major expenses, you must state this very clearly;
- How employee terminations are handled under different circumstances. This is a good place to possibly offer some type of severance pay if provided with two weeks’ notice (or some other time period you may prefer). You can then state that no general severance packages will be offered to those who fail to provide advance notice of their departure;
- Dispute resolution terms. If you and the employee later have a dispute regarding the employment terms set forth in the contract, state whether you require the use of a specific form of dispute resolution — before any litigation can be pursued;
- A reasonable covenant not to compete when employees are leaving. You should also include some type of clear statement that the departing employee must not disclose any trade secrets to others upon leaving.
- A confidentially agreement. All employees who have any access to any company trade secrets, proprietary information or information the company deems to be of a sensitive or confidential nature must sign a confidentiality agreement.
If any of these terms are especially important to your company, give serious thought to asking all employees to not only sign their employment contracts – but to also initial certain paragraphs – clearly indicating that they were asked if they had special concerns or questions about those topics.
Please get in touch with one of our Murray Lobb attorneys once you’re ready to draft any employment contracts for new employees. We are also available to help you modify any of these contracts when various employment conditions change.