Understanding your obligations under an employment contract: So you can get paid

by The FindLaw Team

We’re all bound by some sort of contract as an employee, which requires us to fulfil certain duties and obligations related to the type of work we are contracted to perform. Our employment contracts will generally outline the mutual commitments between ourselves and an employer, as well as any other associated responsibilities outlined in statute and public policy. We here at FindLaw have already covered many aspects of the employment contract, but haven’t really touched upon the performance requirements, in an employment contract. There are many obligations that we need to abide by in a contract of employment, which is actually rather fascinating (at least to the FindLaw team).

Want to get paid? Well, you have to work for it

Sure the sub-heading seems self explanatory, but there are many complexities relating to the ‘work-for-pay bargain’ that we may not be completely aware of, and some of the aspects are quite surprising.  

Firstly, our entitlements are subject to the awards and industrial agreements that we are owed under statute law. However, in most instances, the award or industrial instruments only outlines the amount we should be compensated, rather than explicitly detailing the duties to be performed. So as a consequence, the most important component of an employment contract – outside of how much we get paid! – are the actual terms within the contract, that governs whether or not we get paid our salary.

Case law in Australia has ruled that in order for an employee to be paid, they must actually perform the services in which they are contracted to complete. What are the consequences for a person who has failed to fulfil their duties? They might not get paid! Even in the event that an employee has failed to fulfil their obligations due to the actions of an employer. The courts have still ruled that employees aren’t entitled to recover wages because they have failed to conform to the terms of the employment contract.

However, an employee may be able to find relief through other legal avenues, so don’t completely freak out.

The relationship between an employer and employee is based on mutual trust and confidence

Yes, a relationship based on mutual trust and confidence sounds like something that a person would say during their wedding vows, but is in fact also applicable to the relationship between an employer and employee. The overarching premise of the term ‘mutual trust and confidence’, is the promise that an employer will not exploit their employees and that the worker will be treated fairly.

There is no singular standard on what exactly constitutes ‘mutual trust and confidence’. However, the term is recognition that an employment contract is more than just a financial transaction, but can also include social and personal relations between an employer and employee.

The implied duties of employees

There are a number of implied duties which may be required from an employee in the performance of their contract, and may include some of the following:

• the duty to obey lawful and reasonable orders from an employer
• the duty to perform their duties with skill and care
• the duty to keep information obtained from the course of employment confidential
• the duty to do additional work as requested by an employer, and if the employment contract allows such actions.

Furthermore, an employee owes their employer a duty of ‘fidelity and good faith’, that requires an employee not perform any acts that are inconsistent with the terms of their contract.

This article is by no means an exhaustive breakdown of all aspects of an employment contract. If you have any actual issues related to the course of your employment, please seek the appropriate legal advice.


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