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Employment Contracts

Advice to help musicians, artists and performers understand what to look for in an employment contract, and the kind of things that could cause problems further down the line.

Last updated: 01 November 2022

If you’re offered a contract of employment you should always arrange for specialist legal advice before signing.

MU members are entitled to employment advice from a lawyer, including employment contract advice, at no added cost. Find out more about our Employment Advice service, including information on how to make your request.

Although you should take professional advice, it may be helpful to familiarise yourself with some of the main points for consideration when signing a contract, as detailed below.

Deciding if an employment contract is right for you

To start with, you need to decide if you are content to enter into or work under a contract of employment at all.

There are advantages to employment status (such as the right to bring certain claims in the employment tribunal) but there may be some disadvantages depending on your particular circumstances.

The contract should be clear

It’s important that the contract is clearly set out. You should make sure the following points are particularly clear:

  • The date your period of continuous employment began or will begin. Check if any employment with a previous employer counts towards your continuous service. This is important because continuity of employment is used when calculating various rights, including unfair dismissal and statutory redundancy payment rights.
  • Your working arrangements
  • Your job title and job description. This may be important should the employer propose to change your role and duties later on; the absence of a clear job title and a comprehensive job description may have a substantial impact on the strength of your position.
  • Your pay and pay arrangements. Is there a provision confirming salary will be reviewed annually? Ensure also that any other benefits such as bonuses, company car or insurance are set out in the contract and if they are agreed to be contractual benefits, this should be made clear.
    Complex issues can arise regarding bonuses and it would be prudent to discuss these issues in more detail with your Regional Office if you have any particular concerns.
  • If your employer agrees there is a collective agreement with the MU. If so, then the agreement (or parts of it) should be expressly incorporated into the contract. Your normal hours of work (if any), overtime arrangements and rates of pay for any overtime.

You should be happy with contract conditions

Check for the following conditions, and if you’re happy with them:

  • If the employer is asking you to be subject to a probationary period.
    This is unlikely to be appropriate if you are already employed by this employer but are being offered new terms.
  • If you need to spend any time working from home or if you are required to work at different locations.
    Note that a contractual requirement to be mobile and work at different locations may have a bearing on the issue of whether or not you are redundant in some circumstances.
  • Whether you are to work part time or full time.
    There should be no real differences between a contract of employment for a part-time employee and a full-time employee, other than that certain benefits will be pro-rated and the hours of work will be different.
    However, there are a number of legal issues that can arise when working part time. Further advice from your Regional Office can be sought if there are any particular concerns.
  • Consider if any office manual or staff handbook or other rules and procedures are part of the employment contract.
    You can discuss this with your Regional Office.
  • Check the holiday provisions carefully.
    For example, will you be required to take holiday during term holidays?
    The employer’s holiday year should be recorded and the rules that apply with regard to taking holiday and carrying over holiday into the next year should be clear.
    Check if you will be required to work on public holidays. If not, check whether public holidays are included within your annual entitlement and seek an amendment if appropriate.
  • Find out what pension scheme is offered (if any) and if the employer will make contributions to your pension.
    At the very least, it may be reasonable for you to argue that the employer should match your pension contributions up to a certain percentage, e.g., 5% of the salary.
  • Check if your employer requires an assignment of copyright and intellectual property in relation to work created during the course of the employment.
    The starting point is that work created in the course of employment will be owned by the employer. If you have specific concerns, you can discuss these with your Regional Office.

Make sure your employer is meeting their obligations

When reading your contract you should be aware of the following:

  • Be vigilant to any unusual grounds for summary dismissal.
    For example, dismissal without payment of notice for reasons such as poor performance, and seek their removal from the contract.
  • Check the length of your notice period.
    The employer is obliged to give a statutory minimum of one week for each year of continuous service up to a maximum of 12, but a longer contractual notice period is likely to be reasonable, e.g., for senior employees.
  • If the contract contains a clause requiring you to retire at a certain age.
    Generally we would recommend you resist this as that is unlawful discrimination because of age, unless objectively justified.
  • Note if there is a clause that restricts your activities for a period post employment (e.g. not to compete with the business).
    This will usually be inappropriate, save where you are important to the business.

Check your contract for conditions relating to Covid-19

  • If the date of your original contract has been postponed by agreement due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but the other terms of the contract remain the same, be sure to change the date of the performance on your contract, then re-sign and date it.
  • If you had a contract cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the other party wishes to re-engage you, then it’s worth checking again to see whether there are any cancellation clauses within that were not there previously. If you are unsure then check with your Regional Office.
  • If you are being offered a new contract then again check the cancellation clauses.

Given the current uncertainty about whether we will again be faced with a further spread of Covid-19, it’s likely that bookers may exercise greater diligence in offering contracts with more detailed cancellation clauses.

Contact the Musicians' Union today

The MU has a network of experienced teams available to help musicians in all areas of the industry. If you have any questions about our services, membership or how the MU could help you, please don't hesitate to get in touch.

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