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Employment agreements: look closely, the devil is in the detail


Sandra Shaw

Getting ready to sign up for your first professional position? When deciding which job to take, there are loads of things to consider. You might find yourself talking to or emailing with different employers, or there may be just one obvious employer for you. Whichever way this works, make sure you take time to check the fine print. Here are some hints to help you when you are thinking about signing an employment agreement.

Get it in writing

It doesn’t matter what it’s called—an employment agreement or a contract are the most likely terms for the document that outlines the agreement between you and your future employer. It is crucial for you to have a written document outlining your employment conditions before you start work. This written agreement sets out your rights and responsibilities. If you accept a position that does not include a written employment agreement, you cannot be sure about your conditions and there is too much room for confusion and misunderstanding.

Understand everything in the contract

Some contracts are long, others are brief. No matter how long the contract is, it is important that you understand everything in it. Take as much time as you need to read the contract thoroughly. If you don’t understand a clause, ask someone who does.

Show me the money

The contract should tell you the salary for the position. Be cautious about what is included in the annual salary. Sometimes superannuation, professional membership fees, CPD and other costs are bundled into the ‘salary figure’. This is OK but to be sure the salary figure is fair, ensure the contract outlines whether the salary includes your extra conditions and how much is allowed for each.

Work is about more than money

Think carefully about the job you are accepting. Money is great but make sure the job is the kind of job you want to do with the type of interest and support you think you will need to grow as an optometrist.

Pay special attention to the restraint clause

Most contracts include a restraint clause to protect the interests of your employer. After you leave the employer, the restraint clause limits where you can work and for how long. It is particularly important to understand this clause and know that you are happy with the conditions outlined.

We talked about that

If you have discussed a particular condition with a future employer and you expect it is included in your agreement, make sure it is in writing. If it’s not written in your contract, it’s hard to argue that it’s part of your employment agreement.


Your first job is an important step—make sure you know where you will be working, which hours and days you are expected to work, and how you will get professional support as you learn the finer points of your new profession.

Beware the bonus

Some contracts offer bonus payments for particular achievements—number of patients seen, sales associated with your patients and so on. While these conditions can add to your overall pay, you cannot rely on them until you get started at work and see if they are realistic. Be wary about assuming you will achieve the bonuses.

National Employment Standards

All salaried workers in Australia are entitled to a range of minimum conditions as outlined in the National Employment Standards. Good employment contracts outline these but even if they aren’t outlined specifically in your employment contract, you are still entitled to them. They include personal and sick leave entitlements, annual leave and public holiday provisions.

Check with your association

If you have any questions—big or small—Optometry Australia is here for you. The staff in your Division is always happy to discuss employment matters with you in absolute confidence.

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