Employment Contract / Joining Letter / Offer Letter

What is the difference between an Offer Letter, a Joining Letter and an Employment Contract?


People are frequently confused between these three documents relating to the recruitment of employees. What is the difference between these 3 documents? Simply put, an offer letter is a letter from the employer offering the job to the candidate. A joining letter is a letter from the candidate to the employer accepting the job offer. An employment contract is an agreement between the employer and the candidate setting out the terms of employment. The employment contract is usually signed after the acceptance of the offer. Although sometimes it is enclosed by the employer with the offer letter, then signed and returned by the employee with a joining letter. There are joining letter format and employment contract templates that you can download from DocPro.


1. What is an offer letter?


An offer letter is a document sent by the employer to the candidate setting out details of the job to confirm the recruitment. An offer letter is not an employment contract, it merely summarises the opportunities that the employer is offering to the candidate, leaving the detailed terms of employment to the contract. It is a written confirmation of the nature job so that both employers and the candidate understand and agree on the conditions and expectations of the job.


An offer letter can be formal or informal, legally binding or non-binding. The offer letter would contains basic job details such as job descriptions, wages, benefits, paid leave, and reporting structure. It is of fundamental importance for the employer to establish its intention for the offer letter. The offer letter constitutes an offer under contract law, and once accepted by the candidate, would inadvertently form a legally binding contract.


Unless the offer letter is properly structured, the employer may be required to comply with all the terms as if it is an employment contract, even though the employer's intention is simply to send an offer letter. This may be very expensive for the employer if the candidate is later found not to be suitable (e.g. failing a background test).


As such, it is important for the offer letter to be subject to certain conditions before it is made legally binding. For example, the offer may depend on the candidate completing additional steps, such as passing a background check or an exam, obtaining certain qualifications, or undergoing a pre-employment health test.


Things to include in an offer letter:


The offer letter confirms the details of the recruitment, such as:

  • job description
  • job title
  • reporting structure
  • starting date
  • wage
  • key benefits
  • condition of the offer 
  • confirmation of acceptance


2. What is a Joining Letter


Candidates can choose to accept the job offer and sign and return the offer letter as formally accepting the position. Alternately the candidate may provide a joining letter provided to the employer stating that his / her acceptance of the job and confirm the appointment. If the job does not meet the expected salary, the candidate may wish to include a counter-offer in the joining letter.


The joining letter format can varies. A joining letter can also mean the standard letter provided by the employer for the employee on the first day of employment for the purpose of induction, containing all the details of the job profile, including treatment and company terms and conditions.



3. What is an employment contract?


An employment contract or agreement is a signed document that clearly sets out the terms and conditions of employment. It is usually executed after the candidate has indicated his / her acceptance of the job offer. The purpose of an employment contract is to establish a binding commitment between the employee and the employer.


Unlike an offer letter, instead of simply providing a summary covering the basic terms of employment, a contract of employment would include more specific and detailed terms of employment and is intended to be legally binding. The provision of employment terms in writing to the employee by the employer may also be required by law.


Who will need to sign an employment contract?


Most employers would require all permanent full-time employees, including administrative, professional, and executive employees to sign employment contracts. Even in jurisdictions where employment contracts are not mandated by law, they are recommended as they can protect both the employer and employee.


Part-time or hourly workers may not have written employment contracts, but terms of employment might be spelt out in an employee handbook or other company policies and procedures. In particular, it is important to set out the duties of the worker and clarify the relationship with the employer (i.e. whether the worker constitutes an “employee” and is entitled to certain employee benefits).


In relation to a contract with an independent contractor, it is important to state in the terms and conditions that the contractor does not constitute an employee of the company. However, it may still contain many of the same items as per an employment contract. One can refer to DocPro's employment contract templates as a starting point.


Things to include in an employment contract:

  • Identification of the employer and employee with addresses and IDs.
  • Effective Date of the agreement and the Start Date.
  • Type of employment, full-time or part-time, salaried or hourly.
  • Services to be provided by the employee.
  • Duties of the employee.
  • Working hours and days of work.
  • Wages to be paid on an hourly, daily, weekly or monthly basis. Alternately compensation may be on a commission basis with minimum wage.
  • Benefits provided to the employee. These include leaves, holidays, medical, insurance, pensions, etc.
  • Termination, describing the circumstances under which either party may terminate the relationship, and the notice period.
  • Other policies. Incorporation of other terms into the employment contract such as employee handbooks or policies affecting employees.
  • Restrictive Covenants. Some employment contracts may include restrictive covenants to protect the employer. Depending on how they are worded, may or may not be enforceable:
    • Non-compete - restricting the employee's competition with the employer during or after termination.
    • Non-solicitation - the employee agrees not to solicit the employer's customers or other employees.
    • Confidentiality - the employee agrees to keep trade secrets, proprietary information confidential.
  • Applicable law and dispute resolution. The applicable law is usually the law of the place of employment. Disputes could be resolved in court, by arbitration, mediation or certain statutory body such as the labour tribunal.

Employment Contract Template


Joining Letter Format