Discussing UK law. Links: swarb.co.uk | law-index | Acts | Members Image galleries

Filling out an application form that is actually a contract?

Filling out an application form that is actually a contract?

Postby derail » Tue Nov 29, 2016 11:43 am

My niece suffers from mental health problems. Her mental health issues are not psychotic. They are more anxiety and manic depression related. Quite often she can come across as an intelligent articulate girl. She is possibly not what the law would regard as lacking in capacity. However, she has been deemed as being unfit to work by her doctor due to her mental health problems for which she is receiving ongoing treatment.

Recently during a particularly manic and anxious period she saw that a jobs fair was taking place at a local shopping centre. She knows that she's been deemed as unable to work but she is desperate to get back to some sort of employment as she has a terribly irrational guilt of being on benefits.

On arriving at the jobs fair she sat down with one employer who starts telling her about the job they had on offer. He then says "are you happy to fill out an application form"? To which she replied "Yes".

The form had approximately ten pages to it and at first glance it did indeed look like an application form asking for name, address, work history, reference contacts etc. At the bottom of each page it asked for a signature. After the first two pages or so my niece simply signed the rest of it without properly reading the small print because she'd been told that it was merely an application form. Fortunately she was not alone and she has a credible witness who can corroborate the fact that the employer called it an application form as he gave it to her to fill out.

The very next day she received a letter from the employer giving her a start date for employment.

By this point my nieces mania had calmed down and she realised that she was completely incapable of doing the job she was being invited to do. She contacted the employer apologising that she would not be able to take the job.

The employer then makes contact with her and points out a number of clauses in the small print of the 'application form' where by signing she agreed to terms such as:
* You are now on probation which means that we can dismiss you at anytime if we are unhappy with your work but if you choose to leave you must give us 2 months notice.
* If you decide to leave before your probation is finished you will pay us one months salary to compensate us for admin fees and the cost of finding a replacement.

There are a number of other very odd clauses that to a casual observer do appear to be very one sided and unfair.

My question is, of course you should always read anything you have to sign, lesson learned there I think. But if you can prove that the 'contract' was described to you as an application form and that because of this you didn't believe you were entering into a legally binding contract, can it be voided?

Also, clauses like the ones above are very one sided. The employee gets virtually nothing out of it. Can the lack of consideration here be enough to void the contract?

Finally, if someone has been deemed by a doctor as being incapable of working due to mental health problems, how far can this go to show that she lacked the capacity to fully understand what was actually happening? Especially in a situation where the employer called the contract an 'application form', which would probably confuse most people let alone someone with a mental health problem?
derail
 
Posts: 22
Joined: Tue Nov 29, 2016 10:38 am

Re: Filling out an application form that is actually a contr

Postby Hairyloon » Tue Nov 29, 2016 12:19 pm

There are laws against unfair contracts, but I am not familiar with them. I am sure somebody more knowledgeable will be along shortly. And there are questions as to whether it was a valid contract: it is not clear which is the offer and it seems obvious that there was no intent to be bound by legal relations.

I have to say though, that this seems so dodgy as to almost be fraud: is the representation of an application form as a contract sufficient to qualify as dishonest?
Not for me to say, but from here it smells like a scam: some people in that situation are likely to simply pay up through fear of litigation.
Should not hurt to talk to the police on that count, and certainly talk to the organisers of the job fair.

On a tangential point, if the employer had not already proven themselves to be dodgier than Dodgy Dave, I would have suggested to give it a go. That a doctor has said you are not capable of work means that you should not be made to try to work: if you find work that you can and want to do, then you should do it.
Look, for example at Professor Hawking: would any doctor judge him as fit to work?
Take me to your lizard...
User avatar
Hairyloon
 
Posts: 9313
Joined: Thu Nov 01, 2012 3:12 pm
Location: From there to here and here to there... Funny things are everywhere.

Re: Filling out an application form that is actually a contr

Postby derail » Tue Nov 29, 2016 12:47 pm

Hairyloon wrote:There are laws against unfair contracts, but I am not familiar with them.


I'm not entirely au fait with them either. As a basic principle I do believe that both parties must get something out of them. In this instance my niece got a job offer. Which she has decided to decline and now the employer appears to believe that this decision should cost her possibly in excess of £1000 and are threatening legal action.

They have not given a breakdown of their costs because they say they don't need to as she signed the contract. Yet surely they must justify why this absurd sum is what they require to compensate them for their 'loss'?

I mean before an employee actually starts a job, what administration is there? Perhaps an hour to check references and another hour for various paperwork etc? In terms of real costs I'd value this at perhaps £30 including printer ink.
derail
 
Posts: 22
Joined: Tue Nov 29, 2016 10:38 am

Re: Filling out an application form that is actually a contr

Postby Hairyloon » Tue Nov 29, 2016 1:24 pm

derail wrote:
Hairyloon wrote:There are laws against unfair contracts, but I am not familiar with them.


I'm not entirely au fait with them either. As a basic principle I do believe that both parties must get something out of them.

The "something" need not be anything substantial: there is a famous case where the consideration was an empty crisp packet.

In this instance my niece got a job offer.

For a contract, we need to identify the offer and the acceptance. It may be that they think she was offered the job and the form was her acceptance, or they may think the application was her offer, which they have accepted. I am not persuaded of either: the application should be an invitation to make an offer.

They have not given a breakdown of their costs because they say they don't need to as she signed the contract. Yet surely they must justify why this absurd sum is what they require to compensate them for their 'loss'?

They would have to set that out in a formal Letter Before Action, but I think it is a scam and they are bluffing. I would tell them to get lost and that you will report any further contact as harassment contrary to the Protection From Harassment Act 1997 (though I am not suggesting that that is a good idea).
I mean before an employee actually starts a job, what administration is there? Perhaps an hour to check references and another hour for various paperwork etc? In terms of real costs I'd value this at perhaps £30 including printer ink.

Some people do charge a ludicrous hourly rate, but in general terms you are quite right.
Take me to your lizard...
User avatar
Hairyloon
 
Posts: 9313
Joined: Thu Nov 01, 2012 3:12 pm
Location: From there to here and here to there... Funny things are everywhere.

Re: Filling out an application form that is actually a contr

Postby atticus » Tue Nov 29, 2016 1:40 pm

Get someone to look at the document and to help you put a stiff letter together.

Something in this isn't right.
User avatar
atticus
 
Posts: 18635
Joined: Sun Nov 11, 2012 2:27 pm
Location: E&W

Re: Filling out an application form that is actually a contr

Postby derail » Tue Nov 29, 2016 2:14 pm

It all happened so fast. They sent her a letter the day after the jobs fair welcoming her to the company. The letter also told her to attend an unpaid induction at the weekend and gave her an employment start date. This was before they did any reference checks. She was by no means confident that the reference checks would check out so as far as she was concerned this was all provisional and no actual job offer had been made despite this rather fast welcome to the company.

Further to that she had not attended the induction day where she presumed she'd find out more about the company and how they did things. In her head she felt that only then could she make her final decision as to whether or not she wanted to enter into any type of contract with these people.

Then later that next day there was an email exchange where they contacted her to say that her references had checked out. She replied stating "that's good to hear" or something along those lines. Perhaps the employer viewed this as an acceptance of the job?

It was only on reflection did it suddenly dawn on her that there were days where she couldn't actually leave the house due to crippling agorophobia and that it was quite ridiculous for her to believe that she could do what actually looked like a very demanding full time job.

At that point she notified the employer by email telling them that she had to withdraw.

I do wonder though, when she emailed the company telling them she had to withdraw, the person who responded initially said "ok well thanks for letting us know. If you change your mind then tell us".

I am curious if this response is enough to suggest that they accepted that the application form - "contract" was no longer valid. It was only afterwards did they make further contact demanding compensation outlining clauses in her application form - "contract".

The "something" need not be anything substantial: there is a famous case where the consideration was an empty crisp packet.


I've heard of that. I do wonder what he got for his empty crisp packet. Hypothetically if the trade was £1000 for an empty crisp packet and it could be proven that the person in receipt of the crisp packet was merely asked to fill out an "application form" for it. And it then also transpired that this person was classed as a vulnerable person who had mental health problems, could it be voided if the "application form" was in fact a contract?
derail
 
Posts: 22
Joined: Tue Nov 29, 2016 10:38 am

Re: Filling out an application form that is actually a contr

Postby atticus » Tue Nov 29, 2016 2:25 pm

Can anyone post a link to this crisp packet case, so as to persuade me the story is not apocryphal?
User avatar
atticus
 
Posts: 18635
Joined: Sun Nov 11, 2012 2:27 pm
Location: E&W

Re: Filling out an application form that is actually a contr

Postby tph » Tue Nov 29, 2016 2:37 pm

It's not a contract it is an application. It cannot be a contract if at the time of filling it out they were told it was an application.
User avatar
tph
 
Posts: 550
Joined: Sun Nov 04, 2012 11:54 pm

Re: Filling out an application form that is actually a contr

Postby derail » Tue Nov 29, 2016 2:45 pm

tph wrote:It's not a contract it is an application. It cannot be a contract if at the time of filling it out they were told it was an application.


That's exactly how I see it but because the application contains clauses the employer is saying it's a contract. If it was me I'd tell them exactly where to shove their "contract". But because it's someone else, a vulnerable person, I need to handle it differently.

Does anyone know if "impossibility of performance" exists in UK contract law?
derail
 
Posts: 22
Joined: Tue Nov 29, 2016 10:38 am

Re: Filling out an application form that is actually a contr

Postby tph » Tue Nov 29, 2016 2:46 pm

Does the contract state a period for the probation?
User avatar
tph
 
Posts: 550
Joined: Sun Nov 04, 2012 11:54 pm

Next

Return to Contract and Consumer Law

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest