Read the fine print

December 20, 2022 News Newsletters

By Darryn Gaffy, SDA Industrial Officer

Many of us just gloss over documents before signing them, or tick boxes to indicate our consent, without reading the full agreement. This signature or ticked box could commit you to much more than you intend, especially when it comes to your workplace.

It’s important to read and understand what you’re agreeing to. It is commonplace for your employer to request that you sign legal agreements from individual flexibility arrangements to settlement agreements without explaining their purpose.

These agreements define rights and obligations between parties that become legally binding and enforceable through the court system once the agreement has been signed. Most agreements in the workplace are drafted by the employer to pursue their own objectives, not the employees. Many of these agreements may seem simple enough, but impact situations you may not imagine in the future. A good example is provided by release of future liability clauses, which can prevent an employee from raising any claims against the employer in the future, even if a right to the claim was known at the time of the agreement.

Practice shows us that it can be difficult, and at times impossible, to walk away from an enforceable agreement without the other party’s consent – even if the other party is an employer in a superior bargaining position.

Next time you sign a document, keep in mind the checklist below:

  1. Understand the Agreement – in order to avoid contractual traps that can have significant consequences, read the terms and conditions carefully, including any defined terms, cross-references and other fine print. Even if you have signed a similar agreement in the past, the fine print may have changed as companies continuously tweak their standard terms in an attempt to make them more favourable to them.
  2. Does it match your understanding? – While reviewing the agreement, ensure that all representations made by the employer are incorporated in the written agreement, and that it matches your understanding of the agreement. In the event the agreement contains blank or incomplete clauses “to be filled in later”, proceed with caution and request for the agreement to be finalised before signing it.
  3. Take your time – As many agreements are drafted in complex legal language, take your time to review the agreement and ask for an extension if necessary. If a party to the contract tries to rush the process, it’s probably a red flag.
  4. Seek advice – seek advice from the SDA for peace of mind. The union can assist you by reviewing the agreement and ensuring that you understand its full effect. This also increases the SDA’s awareness of the kind of agreements that employers are producing and enables the union to raise questionable terms and put pressure on employers to have them amended.
  5. Keep a copy of the agreement – make sure you keep a copy of the agreement for your own records, as you may need it in the future.