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Ivie Omoregie: Before You Sign That Employment Contract, Here Are a Few Key Clauses to Note

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Ivie OmoregieAs an employee, one of the prerequisites to having some sort of assurance in a particular organisation is the Employment Contract. However, in a country such as Nigeria where unemployment is rife, and hunger is real, many job-seekers do not wish to “rock the boat” before gaining proper entry into an establishment. It is unlikely for a newly employed person, who has been job hunting for at least seven years, to negotiate any aspect of the Employment Contract and it is because of the high rate of unemployment that many employers choose to take advantage by enforcing onerous terms on their employees.

An Employment Contract, also known as Employment Agreement is a binding document which sets out the obligations and expectations of the parties, purportedly minimising future disputes.

A deeper look into the Labour Sector in Nigeria will reveal that the applicability of the Labour Act is limited to low cadre employees. This would mean that employees who cannot be regarded as being low cadre employees by virtue of the provisions of that legislation can only see recourse under the terms of their Employment Contract.

I believe that, at all times, one should fight for ones rights. I’m not advocating the pursuit of unrealistic goals (please do not go there and quote me whilst asking for a 2015 Range Sport as the company car for your junior position); however I do believe that where one is not comfortable with a particular term in their Employment Contract, then one should raise this fact before signing on the dotted line.

Fundamentally, the employee has the ball in his court and he is expected to take a closer look at the various terms, duties and rewards enshrined in the document. Anyone who knows their self-worth will always negotiate for terms that would be to their benefit.

Having said that, some of the vital issues an employee should look out for when reviewing his Employment Contract include the following:

Compensation (A.K.A “Salary”, “Allowance”, “Ego”, “Kudi”, “Owo”, or “Money”)
This is the main clause an employee must look out for. If the pay is not sufficient consideration, then such an employee might as well remain unemployed and stress free. When scrutinising one should also consider other benefits and entitlements, such as bonus, leave allowance, housing and transportation.

I have a friend who didn’t spend up to a year in her former place of work. She had to quit when she calculated her expenses and placed it beside her salary – she realised the money left, after deducting money spent on transport, wasn’t enough to make her live an “okay” life.

Scope of Employment
Many employees rush into an organisation at the very chance they get and fail to ask themselves “What exactly is my role here and is there any other secondary role which is ascribed to my position?”. At the end, we find absurdities arising, such as the receptionist taking up the duty of the messenger or sometimes the role of cleaner.

A lawyer friend of mine who’s just over 10 months in the profession commented on such instance where lawyers of his level are ordered to perform duties not relating to their calling, such as making daily trips to “Iya Eba” or “Ghana High” to pick up every ones lunch.

Vacation Entitlement
In this jurisdiction, it is not unheard of for there to be a clause in the Employment Contract baring the employee from any entitlement to leave whatsoever for the first year of their employment.

Initially, I thought this was only applicable to entry level employees, but recently I have come to learn that this clause may be found in any contract an organisation is able to put it into. Thus one can find themselves moving jobs after five years in the job market, and suddenly unable to take time off to recuperate.

I have never actually understood this, as very few immune systems can work non-stop for one entire year without rest; in most instances, employees will merely call in sick and return a few days later with a doctor’s note, thus making the “Leave” unmonitored and the organisation fundamentally losing. As the saying goes “Man no be machine, body no be fire wood”. If the organisation doesn’t know this, I’ll advice that you let them know as soon as you are set to negotiate this clause.

Where such a clause exists, it is worth negotiating to ensure that you are entitled to full staff entitlements from the moment the employment is confirm, that is after the conclusion of any applicable probation period.

It is always advisable to look for the grounds upon which the company can terminate the Employment Contract.

In the UK, it is a norm for organisations to have a clear procedure for termination; this is usually in the form of oral warning, written warning, suspension then termination. Or where there has been a serious incident, suspension, followed by an investigation which may then lead to the termination of the Employment Contract. However here in Nigeria, we do not have any uniform procedure for terminating an employee’s contract; many organisations simply do not properly cater for termination in the Employment Contract, thus leaving the employee at the mercy of the “Benevolent Dictator” also known as “The Oga”.

It is for this reason one needs to ensure termination is properly addressed in the Employment Contract. Where it is addressed, it is also equally import to ensure that the contract does not have an omnibus clause inserted in there. These clauses tend to be drafted in a way that they capture a range of instances and are often used by employers as a means of ending the Employment Contract abruptly; for example one such clause could read “or any other instance which in the view of management may be deemed as a breach of this Employment Contract”.

Notice Period for Resignation
Please, if you are not employed as senior management, exactly why should you be mandated to give 3-6 months’ notice of intentions to leave the organisation? In the instance where one has landed a fantastic role with a fantastic organisation, how many of these organisations will be willing to wait 3-6 month for you to complete the required notice period.

In most instances, once a member of staff resigns, their work load will significantly reduce, with them being present merely to hand over to the next parson. For this reason, I do not see why a non-managerial role would need 3-6 months to hand over to their predecessor.

Other essential terms in an employment contract include the following:

  1. Accident/disability and death whilst on the job
  2. Restriction of post-employment trade;
  3. The effective date of the contract;
  4. If the contract is for a fixed term, the date when the contract expires;
  5. Hours of work;
  6. Paid sick leave;
  7. Criterions for promotion; and
  8. Unilateral relocation to another location.

I walk down the streets these days and I see in every corner written in chalk or printed on A4 papers and pasted on rough walls, some sort of vacancy or job opportunity calling for “workers”.

But I cannot help but ponder if the said organistaion is seeking an individual who will add value to their team, or a mere “slave” who they can easily manipulate and mistreat.

In most developed countries, workers have their lives and jobs insured. Unfortunately, this is not the case here in Nigeria, with some people arguing that ‘it is better to be doing something than to do nothing at all’.

In the end, it is expected of every new employee not to rush into a new opportunity that has got no opportunity at all in its real sense.

Ivie Omoregie is the Founding Consultant at Skye Advisory. Skye Advisory is a boutique business advisory firm with locations in London, England, as well as Lagos, Nigeria. Skye Advisory offers bespoke Legal, Financial and General Business advisory services to small and micro businesses.  Ivie is a duly qualified lawyer with years of cross border experience in the areas of Corporate Advisory, Energy and Projects, Finance and Litigation.  Ivie is also an active member of the Nigerian Bar Association as well as an avid Business Advisor, Political Analyst and Human Rights promoter.  View more details about her at Follow her on Twitter @Ivie_Omoregie