Close up of an executive hands holding a pen and indicating where to sign a contract at office

Pictorial Employment Contracts – a legitimate craze, or just plain crazy?

Now here’s a new idea: the pictorial employment contract.  

As part of its focus on innovation, global engineering and advisory company Aurecon is introducing a visual employment contract, effectively eliminating the bulk of the text from their employment contracts by using pictures to accompany the contract’s wording.  As reported in the Australian Financial Review, this is the first time that an Australian company has introduced this type of visual employment contract.

The drive behind utilising the visual contract is to make the document as accessible and understandable as possible for those involved in the employment process.  Aurecon is also hoping that the introduction of this new type of contract will result in a focus on the day-to-day relationships between the company and their employees, rather than creating an overload of threatening (and for some, difficult to understand) legal text.

Aurecon’s Chief People Officer, Liam Hayes has said that “sometimes with contracts it feels like we sign it without really understanding it because it’s too complex – we wanted to take that away because that’s not a great way of starting an employment relationship…It’s got to be built on trust from day one.  We’re not trying to hide anything in our employment contracts.”

And as you can see above, the employee is a light bulb – presumably representative of an ideas person.  Neat.

The fundamentals of the relationship are set out like this: 

And leave entitlements are set out as above, with links to policies – also neat.  

What are the pros and cons of this approach?  

Developing contracts in a pictorial format is likely to take quite a degree of input, and would surely require more artistic flair than many employment lawyers (well, me at least) are able to summon.  We would presumably need a resident artist to draft our contracts.  

The nuances of the drawings might result in interesting interpretative questions.  Would meaning vary if the style was Marvel Comics, or Michael Leunig?   On the other hand, perhaps there is a much greater likelihood of an employee taking in the message, rather than glazing over when reading text?  We may similarly find that it turns out to be easier for an employer to ask ‘which bit of that did you not understand?’.

It’s definitely an interesting idea – and it will be fascinating to see how judges and commissioners deal with such a contract.  Whilst Professor Camilla Andersen of the University of Western Australia’s Law School, who initially worked with Aurecon on a prototype contract, has indeed conceded that she couldn’t rule out the courts finding the contracts unenforceable – former High Court chief justice Robert French last year called the initiative “bold and socially useful”.  

I look forward to interpreting the first graphic restraint clause to cross my desk!

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