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How do I know if I have an employment contract?

Employment law differs from state to state, but the State of California affords many legal rights to those individuals considered to be employees. In doing so, California recognizes several forms of employment contracts. So, how do you know if you, as an employee, are protected by an employment contract?

One obvious way to know you have an employment contract would be that you negotiated terms and signed a contract with your employer. This type of employment contract is known as an express contract. An express contract is a formal, written contract that has been agreed to by both parties. Generally, express employment contracts will include material terms, such as conditions of employment, salary/wages, and length of employment. These contracts may also include any other terms agreed to by the parties so long as these terms are not in violation of the law.

But what if there is not a signed written contract with an employer? Under California law, the employee may still have an employment contract. The law recognizes that the employment relationship itself establishes a contract whether it be written, oral, express or implied. Therefore, even if there is not an express written contract, the employee status may give rise to an implied employment contract. An implied contract forms where the parties do not explicitly agree to terms or memorialize these terms in writing, but their words or conduct imply that they have agreed to certain terms and conditions of employment.

In order to show that there was a breach of contract by the employer, it is most helpful to have an express written contract detailing the terms and conditions agreed to by the parties. Nevertheless, an employee may still be protected by an implied contract under which it is possible to show that the employer breached the implied terms and conditions.

Whether you are offered a formal written contract or you are an employee who may be protected by an implied oral contract, it can be helpful consult with an attorney experienced in employment law to help review the terms and conditions, and help determine if an employer may have acted in breach of the employment contract.

Source: State of California Employment Development Department, "Employment Contracts," accessed Jan. 2, 2017