Whether for a long or short term job position, workers usually sign a contract specifying the job descriptions, rights and responsibilities of both parties. Most of the time the company has form contracts. Other workers develop their own contracts to more specifically meet their needs. Whichever way you go, there are some basics you need to consider including in your contract. Just because a contract is a mass-produced form, there is no law that says you can’t write in your specific needs. Everything is negotiable, limited only to your needs and the companies ability to meet them. Be specific about what you really need to get the job done. Sometimes the money is the most important consideration, but an unhappy working environment can make the money seem small after you’ve been there for a couple of weeks.
Put it all in writing, have it reviewed by an attorney, and make sure both parties sign it. Even have it notarized to ensure its validity. This way you are protected and there is no confusion between the parties. Negotiating a contract is hard, and there are times when you have to be willing to walk away if you don’t get what you want. But if you don’t ask, you won’t get.
Every contract is different. It must match your needs and desires. The following list covers some of the basics. Check with an attorney who specializes in contracts in your chosen industry for more information.
- Who exactly will you be working for? You need to state clearly who your responsibility lies with. Is it the recruiting/job placement company or the company you work with. Sometimes it is clear, but sometimes confusing. An employment company may hire a worker, negotiating the contract and paying the salary, and assign that worker to another company, acting as their agent. When there is a dispute with the company, who will step in to defend you? Or do you have to defend yourself? It can get very complicated. By stating who is your actual employer and who will be honoring your contract in case of a dispute, you make it clear for all involved where you stand.
- Job Description
- What services will you be providing? Be specific as you list the job description and responsibilities. This makes it clear to everyone what is expected of you and the level of responsibility you are undertaking.
- Rate and Hours
- How many hours are you expecting to work? Is it strict hours or flexible? If you are required to work 40 hours a week, can you work four days at 10 hours each or does it have to be 5 days? Are you paid by the hour or a flat wage? Does this include overtime? How much is overtime compensation? Does this include paid holidays? Which ones? Be specific about how much you are being paid, for how many hours and how it is measured.
- How will you be paid? By cash or check? When possible, make arrangements to be paid by direct deposit to your bank account, limiting the hassle of working with uncooperative banks far from home. When will you be paid? Weekly? Monthly? When does your first pay check arrive? Some companies require an employee to wait until the first full pay period to be paid, sometimes a three or four week wait. Will you need cash in-between pay checks? How is that to be handled? If you are working overseas, ask for payment in US Dollars or your home currency.
- What benefits do you want or need? What about stock options? Investment matching? A signing bonus? A termination fee? How about bonuses during the year or when certain deadlines are met? What benefits do the regular employees get? If you want these, put it in writing how you will receive them and when.
- Among your benefits are holidays and vacation days. You need to be specific about which holidays and vacation days you get off work with pay or not. In the USA, you can expect Thanksgiving, Christmas and Labor Day to be vacation days, but working in a foriegn country, like Israel, Christmas is not a holiday, and they don’t know what Labor Day or Thanksgiving Day is as they are unique to the USA. Some Jewish holidays are days off work, while others aren’t. There are days off that are religious and others that are national. Asking for all “religous” holidays off work with pay may stick you with working on or not being compensated for non-religous holidays. Understand which holidays are “official” days off and which aren’t, and be specific about which ones you will work, and which ones you won’t.
- Will the company or the recruiting agency cover health and life insurance? What about unemployment and worker’s compensation? Or are you responsible? Do you get to choose the plan? Can you change or modify it?
- Accommodations/Per Diem
- Who decides where you will stay? Do you have a choice or will the company provide housing? Do you have specific needs such as air conditioning, a desk, two telephone lines or a special bed? Does it need to be smoke-free? Are you paying for the lodging? Will the company handle all payments or will they reimburse you? What about food? Does the company provide meals on the job? If not, ask for a meal allowance to cover the expenses. It is common to negotiate a per diem allowance to cover meals and housing.
- Will the company provide transportation? Will they let you pick out the vehicle or will you be using a company vehicle? What will they pay for and how? Will their payment for the vehicle include the insurance and taxes required or are you responsible? What about the costs associated with maintenance? Do you have specific needs like air conditioning, smoke-free, power steering, gasoline or diesel? Will they provide bus fare or other transportation costs?
- Working Area
- If you have specific needs for the job, with equipment and work space, make sure you specify these. Do you require air conditioning, an enclosed office space, a quiet work space, specific software or hardware, a telephone, and computer? In the USA, you can expect to work in a smoke free environment, but overseas, expect people to smoke everywhere, so if this is a requirement for you, put it in writing. Be very specific, even to listing the version of software, if necessary.
- Which taxes will the company pay and which are you responsible for? Are there any taxes, like city and state taxes, that you’ll need professional help to understand? The United States has “tax treaties” with many other countries ensuring that US Citizens don’t pay double taxes. Some countries don’t expect non-citizens working in their country to pay local taxes while others do, especially if you’ve been in the country longer than six months. It can get very complicated handling the tax requirements of two countries, as well as two states. Consider working with a tax expert to handle the confusion and ask the company to pay for such special services related.
Some foriegn workers make a variety of arrangements to avoid paying taxes within the country they are working. One of the methods is called a “hypothetical tax”. This means that the worker will not pay more tax then they would in their home country (specifically the USA) and the hiring company covers any additional taxes paid to the country they are in. This helps the employee avoid over-taxation to a foriegn government while still paying their normal tax rate. Others setup off-shore accounts and businesses so they are not a sole-proprietor or self-employed but an “employee” contracted by a parent company. The company receives the payment of wages as a service fee, and then “company” pays the employee, and the worker is more protected from the whims of foreign government taxes. It gets complicated but there are many ways of working around high foreign taxes. Whatever process you choose, make sure it is spelled out in the contract so that you are protected.
- Work Permits and Visas
- If work permits or visas are required, put it in writing that the company will handle and expedite keeping these permits and visas up-to-date, covering all associated expenses, keeping your attention on the job and not taking time off to deal with it yourself. If the job requires other special permits, such as food handling, driving, and other licenses, make sure these are up-to-date and specify which are to be paid for by the company.
- Non-disclosure and Rights
- Many companies require signing a non-disclosure clause which means that you will not disclose any information about the company and their projects to anyone outside the company without permission of the company. Protection of a company’s assets is critical to their success. So is the protection of your own work. If you are a software or product designer or developer, you have to consider how much of your own legal rights concerning ownership of what you create you are willing to give away. Put it in writing so your work and future income from your work is protected.
- Off-Site Provisions
- If the job requires you to be off-site for any length of time, list the requirements you need and which expenses are covered like housing and meals, transportation, and even long distance phone calls. Be specific as to your requirements such as air conditioning, non-smoking facilities, and any special on-site equipment.
- Moving Costs
- If you are moving to the new location for an extended time, which of the costs to get you there and set up will they pay for? Airfare? Car rentals? Shipping costs? Shipping costs associated with professional literature and equipment, as well as personal belongings, are usually covered. How much is it going to cost to get you and your stuff there and back?
- Renewal and End Dates
- How long is the contract good for? An open ended contract can leave you locked in for a long time. Set it for a reasonable time. A simple statement such as “subject to renegotiation” opens the door for pay increases, bonuses, and asking for more or less as your needs change.
- Put it in writing on how the termination will be handled. Do you need to give notice? How long in advance? How much notice does the company have to give you when they let you go? Will they have to pay a termination fee if they break the contract or will you have to pay? Consider how to end this peaceably, so both sides benefit.
- Emergencies and Evacuation
- If you are working overseas, or in a risky situation, make sure to include emergency contact information and state that the company is responsible for informing your contacts in case of an emergency. If you require evacuation, for war, at the request and advisement of the US State Department, or for any reason, make sure the company will assist you in every way possible including covering the expense of your evacuation from the country.
Is there anything else you need? Some people add a clause that includes insurance coverage and benefits for a spouse and/or children. Others add a form of will and testament if the job might risk their life. Whatever it is you feel you deserve, write it all down. Then start the negotiation process by asking for everything you want and knowing what you will settle for. You can always say no, and they might just say yes.