Getting the full understanding of an employment contract gives job applicants the opportunity to explore further negotiations that may lead to a better deal for them. (Photo Credit: Andrey Popov via Adobe Stock)

While job prospects during the pandemic might make you inclined to accept the first offer you receive, it’s still reasonable to negotiate your employment contract if you do so strategically. Knowing how to negotiate your employment offer and contract is something that requires preparation, the same way that you prepare for an interview.

Start by researching the employer and job market trends. It will be easier to determine if you need to negotiate your job offer if you know what the market expectations are for your experience in that specific industry.

One key thing to remember is that negotiating begins from your very first interactions with a potential employer. From the first email, phone call and interview, you are being assessed as a potential employee, and you should also assess the company as a future employer. When you are provided with any information about the future employer, make sure you use that information when reviewing and negotiating your contract.

Here’s an example of what this looks like. When you ask at an interview about the expectations for the position, use the answer they provide and check if they include additional duties and expectations in the contract itself. This is important because if your pay matches that of other employees, then so should your job expectations and duties.

Many employment contracts also include terms that allow the employer to control what you can do outside of the workplace, what grounds there are for termination and even restrictions that apply after employment termination.

When negotiating your contract, ask questions aimed at understanding the terms of the contract first. For instance, if the employment contract has provisions that seems vague or overly restrictive, ask about the purpose of those provisions so that you can start a conversation if changes need to be made to those terms.

Employers will often use standard form contracts, which might include restrictions that are unreasonable for your job position or compensation level. A non-compete clause is an example. It can control where you’re allowed to work after your employment contract is terminated. Violating a non-compete clause can lead to lawsuits and paying damages to the employer and may even jeopardize your future employment opportunities.

That’s why it’s essential to understand the terms before you sign the contract, and why you should negotiate the terms if the restrictions are unfair. The key is to leverage any restrictions in your contract so that they match the work you’ll do and the compensation you’ll receive. If you’re comfortable with strict restrictions, for example, then ask for higher compensation or benefits. If you’re willing to forego higher pay, then point out the pay doesn’t justify strict restrictions and ask for certain restrictions to be relaxed or eliminated.

A safe approach is to initiate the conversation by asking questions about the terms of the offer or contract, find no more than five items to negotiate and then ask for the future employer to provide a better offer with justifications about why you think those negotiated terms are fair.

People often miss the window of opportunity to negotiate their employment offer because they were too hesitant or didn’t approach the conversation strategically. I’ve seen this is especially true for minority groups, including LGBTQ employees, and people who don’t come from stable or well-off backgrounds. These employees can be notably less confident and more risk-averse in negotiations. Don’t let that be the case for you.

It can be challenging to know if a job offer is fair or if it’s less than what other employees receive. The U.S. Supreme Court found that LGBTQ individuals are a protected group from employment discrimination. This protection also applies if you are denied an offer or discriminated against while seeking employment. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) gives you the right to file a complaint against an employer if they discriminate against you in not offering you a job, make discriminatory remarks or even treat you differently in their offer of the position.

Since the legal standard only recently changed in June, there is definitely still work that needs to be done to ensure that the rights of the LGBTQ community are protected when it comes to employment discrimination. Now that you know your rights and the advantages of negotiating, make sure to negotiate to get the best job offer and the fair contract you deserve.

Sara Shariff is an attorney with Hull & Chandler in Charlotte who practices business law and estate planning law. Her fields of expertise include business formation, contracts, corporate transitions and mergers and acquisitions.

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