We rewrote an employment contract to help people with disabilities employ support staff — without having to wade through complex legalese.
Manawanui is a non-governmental organisation, helping people with disabilities who want to use self-directed funding to buy the support they need, from the people they choose. This usually means employing people, either as employees or contractors. But becoming an employer brings risks. Misunderstandings can escalate into disagreements that become expensive, stressful legal wrangles.
Manawanui asked us to create a contract that would minimise these risks and enable their clients to hire support staff as contractors.
Rob Creagh was the Manawanui project manager in charge of the new contract. With over 15 years experience of self-directed funding, he knew exactly what the contract needed to do.
Put simply, it had to be concise, easy to understand, and scrupulously fair. The contract had to tell support staff exactly what it meant to be taken on as a contractor. And it had to give Manawanui’s clients confidence to hire the people they chose.
Rob talked us through the points the contract had to cover, and gave us the raw material — a contract used to employ contractors in a range of industries.
The contract’s purpose was to employ a contractor, not an employee. The contract had to be completely clear on this: Manawanui had fielded too many questions about whether support staff were contractors or employees.
We used an idea from Lord Denning, a famous 20th-century English judge, to make sure readers got the message. Denning’s ‘red hand rule’ states that unusual parts of a contract should be highlighted, and that particularly unusual ones should be ‘printed in red ink … with a red hand pointing to it’.
We felt a red hand would be overkill. But we put these words in 16-point bold red type at the start of the contract: ‘You will be a contractor not an employee’.
Leonie Home found this particularly helpful. Her son Torrin has cerebral palsy and she has arranged his care for over 10 years. ‘Explaining the difference between a contractor and an employee has always been a problem. With the old contract we had to tell people we wanted to hire to get a professional to explain it. But now it’s right there on the first page — in straightforward language’.
Remove too much text from a document and your readers may not get your message. Cut too much from a contract and you can increase the risk of expensive legal disputes.
Rob’s experience helped us agree the points that mattered — and cut the word count of the source contract in half, from over 2,000 words to under 1,000.
We used two tools to do this. First, we discarded the points we didn’t need. The source contract was designed to cover many scenarios, but ours only had to cover one. Then we translated it into plain English, removing wordy legalisms — we’ve set out a few examples in the table below.
Linda Barnes is paralysed from the waist down and arranges her own care. She found the new contract’s language easier to work with. ‘It sets out the arrangement in a straightforward way. I found it easier to understand, and that gave me the confidence to discuss it with someone I wanted to hire — we even agreed a few extra points we wanted to add in.’
Manawanui’s first duty of care is to its clients. But Rob’s brief wisely called for a contract that was scrupulously fair.
That’s why we listed the potential downsides of being a contractor on the first page, and pointed would-be contractors to the Inland Revenue Department’s website so they could find out more about GST rules.
And it guided how we ordered the contract. We put the topics that are likely to be top of mind for both sides right up front: how to deal with disputes, how and when contractors get paid.
A contract is written evidence of the start of a new relationship. It should set the tone as well as set things in stone. This contract will give Manawanui’s clients the confidence to start their contractor relationships as they mean to go on: open, straightforward, and, as Leonie Home put it, ‘Both sides know where they stand because it’s all clear in black and white — with no grey areas’.
Here are four before-and-after examples to illustrate how we worked with Manawanui to make the contract clear, fair, and fit for purpose.
First, we cut out what we didn’t need — like the verbiage about the contractor not being entitled to bind the principal. Then we used plain English to make the key points clear. We also used ‘statement’ headings to tell readers the key point of a section.
Finally, we looked at how to make the contract fair and helpful. We added text that explained what it means to be a contractor — and how that’s different from being an employee.
The original text is classic legalese. A long, messy 62-word sentence, full of technical-sounding words (indemnifies, proceedings, liabilities).
We translated it into plain English, using shorter sentences and everyday words.
Here, the rewrite is longer. But it emphasises working together to find solutions, and aims to prevent small problems escalating. Sometimes you do need more words!
You’ll notice that the rewrite below is much shorter. Unlike the previous example, removing text here makes things clearer and ensures only the necessary information is communicated.
Transforming contracts can be a fantastic experience, for you and your customers. Contact us to discuss your ideas by completing and submitting our project planner, calling 0800 497 483, or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.