Employment contracts: Welcome don’t overwhelm

Clients often ask for help with drafting or editing employment contracts. While it is important to get the details right, we seldom need a ten-or-more-page document full of legalese and written in a language never heard outside a courtroom.

Legal minds at Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr recently wrote:

‘Convention, habit and a large dollop of laziness are probably the main reasons why lawyers (and I would add HR practitioners) still favour archaic language plus, perhaps, a blind reliance on precedent documents handed down through generations.’

Two of the things they warn against:

  1. choosing grand words over simpler ones such as, ‘notwithstanding the fact that’ instead of ‘even though’;
  2. using Latin terms instead of simple English equivalents such as ‘inter alia’ instead of ‘among others’;

The problem with grand words and Latin is that we don’t always know what they mean and sometimes use them incorrectly.

Two things to remember:

  1. Employment is, primarily, a relationship.
    Two or more people joining forces to achieve (whether for themselves or for humanity) a worthwhile goal.
  2. The purpose of language is to communicate.
    Our unintended message is usually clearer than the noise of our words, and the message sent by our detailed, legalistic formulae suggest that I can’t trust you, and you probably shouldn’t trust me.

A less formal letter rather than a contract, covering what is needed but readily understood, tells the new employee that this company is about people working with people: ‘Come on in; you’re going to like it here.’

A recent contract:

‘As remuneration for the services to be rendered by the Employee to the Employer, the Employer shall pay to the Employee a wage which shall be paid monthly in arrears into the Employee’s bank account’

I beg your pardon? How about:

‘You will be paid R_____ per month into your bank account.’

How do you engage through your contracts? What message are you sending?

Let Simply Communicate draft or revise your contracts

Contact Ian today


Book now for my next workshop:
Writing for response: Effective business communication
25 November 2020 at the Pietermaritzburg & Midlands Chamber of Business



Ian Webster

From Methodist minister to Customer Relations manager in a computer bureau to HR Manager in a newspaper printing and publishing company. Now focussing on training and developing people and HR & people-management consulting.

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