Employee Contracts: What to know before you sign

Updated: Apr 22, 2021

Navigating your first job offer can be tricky. What does that contract really say? Director of Cronkite Career Services Mike Wong and Cronkite Professor of Practice John Misner (former president & general manager of 12 News and Chief Operating Officer of The Arizona Republic/azcentral.com) share their insights of companies, roles, salaries, terms, contracts and more.

A contract is a legally binding document between the employer and the employee. Wong and Misner say to approach signing a contract very seriously!

Here's what to know before you sign:

Negotiable Contract Elements

These are the primary elements of a traditional employee contract that are negotiable between you and the employer.

  • Salary

  • Term (How many years does the contract last?)

  • Signing bonus/Relocation Bonus or Reimbursement

  • Clothing Allowance

  • Tuition/Education Opportunity or Reimbursement

Important terms: Exempt vs. Non-Exempt

  • Exempt: means exempt from overtime and therefore you will not be paid more for working more than 40 hours per week.

  • Non-Exempt: means you will be paid overtime for hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week.

Important Clauses & Definitions

Be mindful of these clauses if they appear in your employee contract:

  • First Right of Refusal/Renewal: This clause generally empowers a station to retain you by simply matching other offers you may receive. Some clauses may include a hold on you in all markets they operate in. It is strongly recommended that you do not agree to this clause. Companies are likely to take this out of the agreement as long as you bring it to their attention.

  • Sometimes, companies will include a clause that prevents you from working for another similar company in the same market. Misner says these clauses are generally more difficult to negotiate out of.

  • Outs - This clause enables you to leave a station prior to the agreed-upon employment date should you receive an offer from another station. The "out" designates a specific type of position or location that would allow you to get out of your contract. An example would be a "Top 30 Market out", which would allow you to be released from your contract to take a position at a company that is in a Top 30 Market.

Understand your Benefits

Benefits are non-wage compensation provided to you as an employee in addition to your normal wages or salary. They can include:

  • Vacation day, sick days, personal days and other paid time off

  • 401K benefits

  • Health insurance

  • Company-observed holidays

  • Education or tuition reimbursements

Benefits will vary by company, so it's important for you to understand what benefits will be available to you upon signing a contract.

Asking for a Raise

Once you've been working in a role for a few years, you may be curious about asking for a raise. However, broaching that conversation with your supervisor can feel awkward or daunting. Misner suggests bringing up the conversation with a supervisor during an employee review period. In a meeting with your boss or supervisor, ask "Are you happy with my work?" or "Am I meeting the company's expectations?", followed by "Do you think I'm being paid fairly for the work that I'm bringing to the company?". This can be a great starting point for a constructive discussion about your wages.

To learn more about these and other best practices, stream the full discussion here. This workshop was originally recorded during the 2020 Fine Tune Friday series hosted by the Cronkite School.

More About Fine Tune Fridays:

Fine Tune Fridays offer students tips on how to fine-tune their professional persona from their resume to their wardrobe. Workshops are open to all Cronkite students and alumni, and are hosted virtually via Zoom. For a full schedule of upcoming events, visit: www.cronkitecareerservices.com/fine-tune-fridays.

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