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I just completed my undergraduate degree and I've been looking for jobs. A prospective employer who has offered to interview (in a different city) has said on the phone that I'll have to sign a contract for 18 months. When I informed them about my reservations about the same (telling them honestly that I'll apply for a post graduate degree next year), the HR said: "You can resign early. It can be worked out."

I don't understand: why would they ask me to sign a formal agreement if I can leave early. Will this lead to any complications later on? The HR did not sound deceiving or anything but I'm just very uncomfortable doing this.

I'm living in India.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Jul 28 '18 at 22:29
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Have HR send you the contract and read it. All of it. The terms for early termination should be spelled out in there. Read them and make sure you understand them. If you don't like terms, ask HR to change or amend them.

Depending on your location, there may be local or federal laws that supersede the terms of the contract, so you can read up on those as well. However, it's better to write directly in the contract what you want.

Don't take HR's word for anything. You want it in writing as part of the contract.

Don't sign anything that you haven't thoroughly read and understood.

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    normally I would say "you can play fast & loose, slavery is illegal", but given OP is in !ndia, the contract & local laws and statutes should be checked. – bharal Jul 29 '18 at 17:18
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The asker has commented that this answer is not the correct interpretation of what's going on. However, I'll leave it here because I think it will still be useful to others in a similar, though not identical, situation.

Are you sure this isn't a misunderstanding? For all the fixed-term contracts I've worked, "the contract is for 18 months" doesn't mean "You must work for 18 months" – it means "You can't work for more than 18 months unless we rehire you." Separately, there are clauses saying that I can resign before then, as long as I give a certain amount of notice.

I think it is very likely that the unsatisfactory answers you've had from HR are because they don't understand your question. I suggest that the situation is as follows. It is completely obvious to them that anybody can resign before the end of their contract, so they think you're asking some other question. The only question they can imagine you might be asking is, "Will you be upset if I resign before 18 months?" and they're saying that no, they won't.

But that's just my reading of the situation. Ask to see the actual contract: it should explain that you can resign as long as you give adequate notice.

  • No, not at all. The HR did mention that "they expect employees to work for at least 18 months", but then went on to add that "it can be worked out" if I want to leave early when I mentioned that I can't commit to that. – WorldGov Jul 27 '18 at 18:27
  • "Will you be upset if I resign before 18 months?" and they're saying that no, they won't." -- Ah, yes, perhaps this is exactly what the HR meant by saying "It can be worked out". I'll still ask for the actual contract to see about the resignation conditions. – WorldGov Jul 27 '18 at 18:30
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    @WorldGov OK, a contract that obliges you to work for 18 months but they'll probably work something out if you want to quit sounds very dodgy to me. I wouldn't recommend agreeing to a contract that they claim they don't intend to enforce: they should, instead, write you a contract containing only the terms they do intend to enforce. – David Richerby Jul 27 '18 at 18:32
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Never sign a contract based on a verbal promise that the contract won't be enforced. It's exceptionally easy to reprint a contract with changes. If someone won't do that, there's no reason to assume they'll enforce any verbal promises, or even that they'll remember them down the road.

If it's not unreasonable for you to leave early, then it's not unreasonable for them to codify it in the contract. If they won't do that, don't sign. It's that simple.

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Only the written contract matters. This deal happens all the time: someone presents a written contract to someone else, and also makes verbal promises that either alter or contradict the contract, e.g. "We won't hold you to that".

It's well understood in contract law what happens next: Only the contract matters. And typically, contracts have a clause (section) to remind you of this:

Entire Agreement: This written contract constitutes the entire agreement between parties. It overrides any prior contracts, agreements, promises, or assurances, except subsequent agreements, which must be made in writing.

So if they're promising something that contradicts or just isn't included in the written contract, they are lying. "Lying" seems like a strong word, but if they're signing the contract, they ought to be reading their own contract, and they know, or reasonably ought to know that the clause is there.

This is your cue to walk away.

If you want to be smart/clever, you can fire up Microsoft Word, type the whole contract in and format it their way, and then add additional clauses which cover the verbal promises they are giving you. Sign that version and give it back to them, and tell them that you modified it. What happens next will be your final warning about doing business with them: they'll either read it and

  • go "Oh, I see you modified it, let me compare to our original... yeah that's fine" (good)
  • sign it without looking (bad), or
  • get angry at you for doing that (bad).

Fact is, a contract is simply an agreement between two consenting adults, even if one of those adults is richer than the other, or a corporation. The guy who writes it generally writes it to protect himself, that's just obvious. Though they try not to make it too burdensome to avoid scandal and to get people to actually sign it. But you have every right to stick up your dukes and negotiate a contract that works for you too.

Honestly if you want to do a complex rewrite of a stock contract like the one Netflix makes their customers sign, Netflix is probably going to say "we don't need your $10/month that bad".

But for larger matters, absolutely. Be bold about negotiating. Worst they can say is "no".

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