Contract Law 101: be careful when accepting job!

Whether or not you realize it, you regularly enter into contracts with other people or companies. In fact, you probably do it several times a day.

And, despite how often you do it, you need to be very careful about entering into contracts. I say that because…well…very few people are careful.

The purpose of this week’s column is to explain the basics (i.e. the nuts and bolts) of contract law.

Admittedly, it isn’t a sexy or exciting topic. But, it’s an important one and everyone should know this stuff.

To start, contracts are formed and agreed to more often than you might know…

For instance, you enter into a contract when you agree to purchase a house, when you agree to sell your vehicle, and when you agree to take on a job or offer someone else a job. And, believe it or not, you enter into a contract when you buy milk at a supermarket or when you buy fuel at a gas station.

Believe it or not, there is a lot of (very intricate) law that surrounds these very routine events.

So, what is a contract? How is a contract actually formed? Well, it is impossible in this column to describe all the ‘ins and outs’ of contract law, but here are the basic components of a contract:

  1. An offer: This refers to a person’s willingness to enter into contract (ex. to offer some goods or services).
  2. Acceptance: This refers to a person accepting the offer described above (i.e. for some goods or services).
  3. Consideration: This refers to the concept that the people involved in a contract must exchange something of value between each other. Here’s an example: if you sell a television to someone, the money that you receive is referred to as ‘consideration’. If there is no ‘consideration’, then there is no contract. For instance, let’s assume that you agree to gift/donate $5,000.00 to a local university (with nothing being given to you in exchange for that money). If you decide later to withhold that money, then the university would have a hard time suing you to get that money.
  4. Intention to be bound: In order to form a contract, each person must actually intend to be bound by a contract. Sounds weird, right? But, as you can imagine, not every agreement that you make with someone will attract ‘legal consequences’. To illustrate, if two strangers agree to exchange services, then there is probably an ‘intention to be bound’ by a contract. But, if you tell your mother that you will give her $100.00 if she bakes you a cake, there was probably no intention to be bound (and your mother will have a hard time collecting that $100.00 from you in court).
  5. Certainty of terms: The terms of the contract must be certain. In a lot of contracts, this requires certainty of the ‘3Ps’: parties, property, and price. To illustrate, if a real estate contract does not sufficiently describe the price of the property, then the contract might be not be enforceable. For example, if the real estate contract does not account for how or when the money will be paid, which can affect the interest calculation, then there might not be an enforceable contract.

Here’s my advice: next time you enter into a contract, make sure that you treat it seriously and confirm all the terms that are important to you.

So, when accepting a job, make sure that you ‘nail down’ the terms of the contract: What’s your pay rate? How much vacation time do you get? What sorts of benefits are included?

And, when selling your car, ensure that you ‘nail down’ what is included in the purchase price: Are you selling the winter tires? Are you throwing in full tank of gas? Are you selling the upgraded audio system in the car, too? Are you fixing the broken windshield?

Remember that when people don’t confirm important terms of a contract, they often end up in court. And, you don’t want to go to court, do you?

**The information contained in this column should not be treated by readers as legal advice and should not be relied on without detailed legal counsel being sought.

Originally posted on Castanet.net on June 11, 2013: Be careful when accepting job.