For a few years now the updated Employment Contract Act has been in force. In 2009 quite many changes became enforced which can be summarized as balancing the rights and obligations between the employer and the employee. The employee is not regarded as the “weak party” as before but more like a contract partner to the employer.

This has brought about greater attention to Employment Contracts. If before there was little hope to enforce contracts against employees then today with a good regulation the relationship can be brought into more equal level. If there is a solid contract between two partners it is more than reasonable to expect both parties to live up to the expectations of one another.

Still, past problems often arise even today – mostly due to the continuing practice of using the old Employment Contract and Job Description models regulation which are too general to have practical value in the moment of need.

For example, quite often it becomes evident that a new employee is not really qualified for the position. At least in your opinion as the employer. This leads to a dispute and whether the parties really saw eye-to-eye of what was expected from the employee in the first place. An example: a common job description of an accountant describes job obligations like handling the daily bookkeeping of a company, doing periodic reporting etc. But what if you have one accountant, do you also rely on s/he to develop and improve any in-house procedures, regulations and standards, show initiative, etc? The latter tasks require a few extra qualities and add extra responsibilities. If this has not been specified in the Employment Contract or job description then it is difficult if not impossible to say the employee is not adding up. The employer may find itself in the sad situation where the position is filled with an employee who does not do what was expected but is not doing anything wrong either. In other words there is no ground for termination of the employment and limited chance to ask more from the employee.

The same goes for e.g customer service staff. If the contract reads that s/he should be “efficient and diligent” it does not really require that all incoming e-mails are replied within 2 hours. If this is essential then it should be written in the job description. Also, when you need an employee who really masters Excel than agreeing on computer skill “Microsoft Office” is not good enough.

The conclusion from this is that it is essential for both parties to be honest and clear about their expectations and qualifications and write them down. The law is on the side of the righteous party but in order to take sides it must be objectively discovered whether the employer was unclear about its requirements or whether the employee exaggerated his/her skills to close the deal. From the employer’s perspective, if all the requirements are specified in the employment documents it is easy to take action and act in your best interest.

Tiina Pukk