My Employer Asks Me To Sign A Document. What Should I Do?
Employers will often ask employees to sign a number of documents after they have started their jobs. This includes non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), confidentiality agreements, and even leaver agreements. You shouldn’t sign any documents if you are not comfortable doing so.
When you are offered a job, you will usually sign an employment contract. This document will include various terms, such as hours of work, salary, and rules of employment. These rules will cover behaviour, intellectual property of the company, and, in some-cases, non-compete clauses, which prohibit you from joining a competitor if you are in a position of knowledge.
When this contract is presented to you after a job offer, it is within your rights to question these clauses. For example, I have asked for longer notice periods and for non-compete clauses to be adjusted when I thought that it they would make it difficult to find another job. Employer should be willing to amend employment contracts as it shows a sign of respect for employees. If terms are too strict, it would be possible to argue in court that they were restrictive.
As you gain more experience, you will become more familiar with the terms set out in employment contracts. In the meantime, you may want to ask friends or family or mentors to take a look through them on your behalf.
But what do you do if after you have started a job, your employer, usually via human resources (HR) asks you to sign another contract such as:
A change to your working conditions
Leaving agreement (after you have resigned)
Changes to working conditions
Changes to working conditions are important to consider. For example, is your employer trying to alter how many days you are allowed to work from home? If they are, and you feel your wellbeing is going to suffer, you should seek compensation via more pay or extra holiday. You also don’t have to agree to it. If you have children to look after on the days you work from home your employer should be aware of this, and if this was negotiated as part of your original contract your employer should stick to it. If they do break these contractual agreements, you could consider legal action.
NDAs are sensitive areas. Startups use them far too often, often believing they have some critical information that others want to steal. Founders often get caught out when they ask investors to sign an NDA and are told ‘No thanks.’
As an employee you should take a similar stance. Why should your employer ask you to sign an additional bit of paper when things like respecting intellectual should be included in your employment contract? Occasionally, signing an NDA may make sense if you are asked to work on a top-secret project that is over and above your day-to-day job. For example, working on Apple’s next iProduct or Tesla’s level 5 driverless cars. The rationale for signing an NDA in these circumstances will be due to keeping the project secret from other staff members, customers, and competitors. But get advice from others before you do so.
I would never sign a leaver’s agreement unless there is a specific benefit in doing so. If an employer is trying to push extra commitment from you when you are about to leave why should you bother? Your employment contract should cover your working conditions including your notice period and termination. So be aware that a leaving agreement could be trying to restrict your further career options or lock you into a longer non-compete clause.
There may be some circumstances where a leaver’s agreement includes details of company shares but again any prior notices of equity and share options should have covered this.
As with all documents issued by your employer that they ask you to sign look at the terms and conditions very carefully. Ask for help from someone more experienced, and if necessary seek legal advice.
Finally, employers might ask you to sign agreements when something bad has happened at work, such as poor behaviour. We have seen many examples of sexual harassment cases being hushed up behind NDAs. Never sign these sorts of agreements. There is no benefit to you and you may not be able to help your fellow employees in the future if they need someone to testify or give evidence on their behalf.
Having a network or friends, family, work colleagues, and mentors can usually help you navigate all of the above without having to resort to legal advice. If you want to talk to somebody about something sensitive at work you don’t always need to share specific details, such as names or products, but you can describe the situation without breaking any confidentiality agreements.