You’ve just gotten a call from the hiring manager at the company where you’ve been interviewing. The job that you wanted so badly is yours! The next thing you know you’re being sent all kinds of paperwork to fill out and sign, and included is an employment contract, and the language in it feels way above your ability to understand.  While most employment agreements contain standard and straightforward language about the terms and conditions of your employment, your start date and position and what your job responsibilities will be, they can also contain language that limits your rights. It’s important that you read this document extremely carefully before signing it. If there’s anything that you don’t feel comfortable with or any terms you’re unfamiliar with, it will be well worth it for you to ask an employment attorney to take a look.

You can anticipate that any employment agreement you’re asked to sign will contain details about the job itself, your title, your exempt or non-exempt status as an employee, and whether you’re being hired for a finite or indefinite period. It should also spell out what your responsibilities will be. The agreement will also indicate your new employer’s responsibilities to you in terms of compensation,  including pay and benefits, and whether and under what circumstances you can be terminated.

But in addition to those terms, there may also be covenants and clauses that directly impact your future ability to work. Non-solicitation clauses, noncompete agreements, and nondisclosure agreements are frequently included in employment contracts, but their restrictions can vary, and are not always reasonable. Some employers ask you to sign you’re your right to sue and agree to arbitrate claims, which greatly benefits the employer. Signing an employment contract without having it reviewed by an attorney puts you at risk for being unable to work in the same industry or geographical region for a period of time that would jeopardize your ability to earn a living, and limit your rights upon termination of your employment.

Unfortunately, many employees make the mistake of assuming that an employment contract is just a formality, and many people believe that they are unenforceable. Also, many employees incorrectly believe that the terms of an employment cannot be negotiated for fear of having the offer withdrawn. Employment attorneys know when and how to negotiate for an agreement that is more fair. While it is true that having an employment contract in place can provide clarity for both employer and employee, and protection in case an employer breaches any of its terms, the restrictions on employee freedoms or ownership of work product that it puts in place can be unreasonable.

To protect yourself, it is a good idea to have an attorney review your employment contract before signing it, especially if you are in a high-level position. Though it may feel uncomfortable to ask for time before signing, employers are becoming increasingly aware that noncompete agreements, arbitration clauses, and similar clauses are controversial, and should have updated any unreasonable terms in order to make the agreements enforceable.  It is in your best interest to understand exactly what you’re signing, and an employment attorney can help make that happen.