What do I do if my employer gave me a deadline to sign?Team
An employee may be asked to sign various documents throughout the course of their employment. Documents such as employment contracts are not mere formalities. They are important agreements that govern an employment relationship.
Whenever a workplace conflict arises, any documents that an employee has signed can either strengthen or weaken their claims. Therefore, when faced with a deadline to sign it is crucial to explore the available alternatives that an employee has as well as the legal implications of signing each document.
What documents might an employer give me to sign?
While some employees may begin working before signing, it is common practice to first sign an employment contract. It may not always be necessary to seek legal advice prior to signing, but at the bare minimum, an employee should review the employment terms they are agreeing to.
During the course of employment, however, an employee may be asked to sign a new employment contract. This can happen when an employer attempts to incorporate a new workplace policy into an employment agreement or update an existing one. Although not legally required to accept the new terms, many employees will fear the loss of employment if they do not accept them. This can create great stress for the employee.
Another common document that an employee may be asked to sign is a release upon dismissal. Upon termination, an employee may be offered a severance package or compensation that adheres to the termination entitlements in the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (“ESA”) or its equivalent in other provinces. In exchange for this package, the employee may be asked to first sign a release upon dismissal.
Common tactic employers may use to pressure employees into signing documents is to make any offer or entitlement contingent on acceptance before a given deadline. Faced with this tactic, prior to signing the document, it is important for employees to consider the available alternatives.
What options do I have when faced with a deadline to sign a new employment contract?
An employee is not legally obligated to sign a new employment contract. In fact, when an employee is asked to sign a new contract by a given deadline, they should seek out legal advice immediately.
There are two basic options or outcomes that may arise when faced with a new employment contract.
First, the employee may be satisfied with the changes made to the terms of the employment contract and agree to sign the document. Employees should be cautious in choosing this option as the new agreement will be the authority that binds and governs the employment relationship thereafter. It is important to remember that regardless of any deadline, there is no obligation on the employee to sign this document. An employee may be unknowingly agreeing to substantial changes that may impact the availability of future claims made against the employer.
The second available option is to outright reject the new document. In failing to sign the document by the deadline, the employee is rejecting the offer of the new contract. Therefore, if an employer insists on governing the employment relationship through the rejected terms then the employee may sue for constructive dismissal.
What options do I have when faced with a deadline to sign a release upon dismissal?
When an employee is terminated, at a minimum, they are owed the statutory entitlement under the ESA. An employer may offer a terminated employee a severance or termination package that includes a release.
The legal implications of signing a release document upon dismissal are that the employee foregoes their right to bring any subsequent claims against the employer. A release protects an employer not only from a wrongful dismissal claim but also from any civil claims or damages suffered during the course of the employment.
If an employee discovers they could have received more entitlements under the common law, they would be barred from making a claim in the event that a release was signed.
An employee may feel pressured into accepting and signing a release when they are told that the offer is only valid within a certain period of time. The mention of a deadline, along with a lack of knowledge regarding statutory minimum entitlements, may convince an employee that a refusal to sign means foregoing their termination entitlements. In such cases, the employee may be able to argue that the release is set aside for duress or unconscionability.
An employer’s use of a deadline with regard to signing documents is not illegal. However, this does not mean that the refusal to sign before a deadline negates an employee’s common law and ESA rights and entitlements.
When given a deadline to sign a document by an employer, an employee should exercise caution and fully understand all the available options. If you are unclear about the legal implications of signing a document you should always seek legal advice.
If you have any concerns about an employment contract or document, our team of experienced employment and human rights lawyers at Achkar Law can help. Contact us by phone toll-free at +1 (800) 771-7882 or email us at [email protected], and we will be happy to assist.