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Employer has issued new contracts and pressing me to sign, whilst I am on maternity leave

(26 Posts)
katherine2008 Tue 13-Jan-09 16:20:34

can anyone help? my employer has issued new contracts to all staff with 3 notable new clauses from the one page letter of employment they issued me when I started there nearly 11 years ago. one is extending my notice period from 4 to 8 weeks. one is a confidentiality agreement (which means I guess I'll never write my memoirs..!). The one that is really annoying me is about stealing clients if I leave - not only can I obviously not contact them bla, but this contract forbids me from working for them for a year, whoever contacts whom... I'm going to scrape the money together to get a lawyer to look at it, but wondered if I actually had to sign anything whilst on maternity leave?? any advice HUGELY gratefully received... (I work in PR)

LeninGrad Tue 13-Jan-09 17:13:03

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

katherine2008 Tue 13-Jan-09 17:19:55

no, it's a tiny company of about 16 people. i'm one of the managers... I understand why they are trying to protect themselves, but wondered if they are allowed to hassle me whilst I'm on leave..?

waspriceyp Tue 13-Jan-09 17:27:15

It's a bit of a tightrope for employers, because whilst you are on mat leave, you are still considered to be a member of the workforce. If they hadn't sent this too you and you had returned from mat leave and been expected to sign a new contract upon return to work that would be very bad practice on their part.

Those changes don't sound OTT to me, 11 years is a long time without an update and issuing a whole new contract is simpler and tidier than issuing addendums that people acknowledge initially but forget in the long run!

Go back to your boss and see if any of the new clauses are negotiable for you. 8 weeks is a long time for a notice period, for example, but also difficult to enforce if you have a job offer pending or a change of lifestyle.

Confidentiallity - speaks for itself and fair dink I guess.

Not working for competitors, now unless you work in a very niche area, would they know and have there been cases of poaching in the past?

LeninGrad Tue 13-Jan-09 17:28:34

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

katherine2008 Tue 13-Jan-09 17:50:11

i know i know they can't win, but they aren't very generous to their employees (and I don't mean just financially). It is a niche business sadly and they would know if you had taken clients...

BennyAndJoon Tue 13-Jan-09 18:08:20

On the working for clients point - I have been told that this can't be enforced because of EU rules on mobility of workers or some such thing. <<disclaimer, was frm union rep but not in official capacity>>

waspriceyp Tue 13-Jan-09 18:25:45

IIRC notice periods are not always enforcable because of a variety of differing circumstances. Have you decided if you want to return following mat leave yet?

katherine2008 Tue 13-Jan-09 18:54:43

no not sure if i am going back there yet - and may go part time with a rival, hence slight reluctance to sign. they have just had a staff member leave on 4 weeks notice and take his clients so i see their point, but the 12 months not working with a client if they approach you seems a bit hard going!

LittleBella Tue 13-Jan-09 18:55:38

Not at all sure that in the free market, they can stipulate who you can work for

Sounds like an illegal contract to me

BennyAndJoon Tue 13-Jan-09 19:05:23

If I were you I would call ACAS.

it is free advice

flowerybeanbag Tue 13-Jan-09 19:19:37

You don't have to sign anything at all, regardless of whether or not you're on maternity leave. You can just refuse to sign.

What you could do, if it's just that you don't want to get into negotiations now, (which is fair enough) is write back saying you are refusing to sign and will be happy to discuss the issues with them again when you return from maternity leave and will be in a position to give the proposals your full attention and take the appropriate advice.

That will do several things. It will buy you some time while you sort out what you want to do, keeping your notice period at 4 weeks and not having those other clauses complicating things, and it will also let them know that you are not a pushover and will not be just signing away when you come back either.

Even if you signed, I would imagine they'd have tremendous trouble preventing you from working for clients if they approach you.

choufleur Tue 13-Jan-09 19:21:15

the amends don't seem that unusual for PR agencies. I've often found that execs are on 1 month, managers 2 months and directors 3 months notice.

Agencies that i have worked for have always had clauses about poaching business and setting up on your own.

TBH though when i left an agency a while ago one of my largest clients decided to resign their account as they liked working with me and the new agency i went to happened to win the account when we pitched for hmm.

how would they know if you went to work for one of your client after you left your current employer?

waspriceyp Tue 13-Jan-09 19:24:01

So glad Flowery turned up!

The problem with trying to prevent you going off with other companies or taking clients is that their beef would have to be the the other company or the clients.

It sounds like they are trying to bolt the stable door so to speak. (why is every analogy in HR related to horses?)

katherine2008 Tue 13-Jan-09 19:24:26

flowerybeanbag that is wonderful advice (not that the rest hasn't been - gosh you lot are brilliant!) i will do just that and see what happens and if they insist on my signing then I will seek legal advice (will the Citizen's advice be able to help?)... thank you thank you everyone - I really do feel like I'm being bullied - I haven't had a pay rise in 2 years and was meant to be a 'key member of the team'!!!!

katherine2008 Tue 13-Jan-09 19:32:46

hi, the industry I work in is tiny,really tiny and everyone knows everyone's business. the clause which is bugging me states 'you shall not for a period of bla solicit, endeavour to entice or accept the custom of any person who at any time during the period of 12 months prior to the termination of your employment has been a customer or client of the company and with whom you had business dealings on behalf of the company, where such solicitation, enticement or acceptance of custom relates to the provision of services similar to those which are, could be, or have been, provided by the company'

flowerybeanbag Tue 13-Jan-09 19:34:04

Don't panic too much. They can't make you sign. The only way an employer can forcibly bring in a change to your terms and conditions is by going through all sorts of consultation hoops, then terminating your employment and then reengaging you on the new terms and conditions. The employee in question could then bring an unfair dismissal claim. If the employer hasn't consulted fully and considered all alternative suggestions and there isn't a good business reason for the change, the employee could win the unfair dismissal claim.

It would be suicidal unwise of them to even consider sacking a woman on maternity leave because she didn't want to get into contract negotiations so you should be fine.

Have a read here.

katherine2008 Tue 13-Jan-09 19:42:19

thank you i'll read that info now. you are a total star!

katherine2008 Thu 15-Jan-09 20:30:05

Flowery did as you suggested and they have backed off (hopefully for good, certainly for now) so a million thank yous!

flowerybeanbag Thu 15-Jan-09 22:02:06

Hoorah! grin

RubyRioja Thu 15-Jan-09 22:07:12

I have a feeling that the clause re contacting (forner) clients is tricky to enforce, especially if you are in a niche industry. To do so might effectively prevent you from earning a living is the rationale.

Cannot remember source (related to Dh a couple of years ago), but worth investigating I woudl think

ilovelovemydog Thu 15-Jan-09 22:08:42

In the meantime read up or get advice on, 'restraint of trade...' It's a very specific aspect of employment law dealing with competitive situations and what is reasonable for an employee when he/she leaves as far as future employment

katherine2008 Mon 19-Jan-09 17:17:40

thank you so much i will look that up!

prettybird Mon 19-Jan-09 17:47:33

Isn't the "poaching" issue waht gardening leave is there fore - and even that is difficult to enofrce, legally! grin

SO you could tell them you are happy to not work for competitors for 12 months, if they give you 12 months pay in liue of notice! wink

Sreioulsy though - floery is the best for this sort of feedback and I'm glad that they have backed off.

prettybird Mon 19-Jan-09 17:48:35

I meant Flowery(beanbag) - not floery blush

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