Contract

Entering into electronic contracts

Increasingly, business is being done and people are entering into electronic contracts online, via smartphone platforms or email. Even conveyancing in relation to real property is now done online.

What are the requirements for a contract?

Generally, a contract is in place and valid if the following conditions are met:

  1. The parties are legally competent
  2. There is an offer
  3. There is acceptance of that offer
  4. The consideration or price is agreed

A written signature is not necessarily required for a valid contract to exist. The terms of the agreement also can be agreed verbally. Contracts can be signed electronically since the Electronic Transactions Act 2000 (NSW) and corresponding legislation in Australia’s other States and Territories.

How can they be executed?

There are a number of ways an electronic contract can be “executed” provided that it is clear that the intention is to be legally bound:

  • by an exchange of emails or text messages
  • clicking an ‘accept’ button to accept terms (or even a hyperlink to terms) on a webpage
  • ticking a box to acknowledge and agree in an App
  • typing ‘yes’ or ‘I agree’ into an online form
  • ‘signing’ with your finger or a stylus/digital pen, such as when receiving goods
  • using an electronic signature facility to sign a document

The Act stipulates that that if a person consents to a method of electronic signature and intends that signature to be their consent to the contract, then it will be as binding as a written “wet ink” signature on paper. Act also requires that to be valid, the signatory must be reliably identified.

Some transactions are not able to be completed electronically for obvious reasons, such as:

NOTE – During the COVID-19 pandemic, this changed pursuant to the Electronic Transactions Amendment (COVID-19 Witnessing of Documents) Regulation 2020 (NSW).

What about Deeds?

Deeds (which previously at common law had to be signed, sealed and delivered) or other documents that need to be ‘witnessed’ were unable to be signed electronically in NSW until 22 November 2018 when the insertion of section 38A into the Conveyancing Act 1919 (NSW), which specifically allowed it, was assented to. Witnessing requires physical presence at the time of signing, so it cannot be done by FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp etc.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to any contractual, business-related or commercial law matter, contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your needs.

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New Consumer Laws for services apply from 9 June 2019

In our April 2018 blogpost, we provided a brief summary of some of the key requirements under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) that apply to goods and services and the requirements of any warranties as to defects over and above the consumer guarantees created by the ACL. New consumer laws for services apply from 9 June 2019… 

A “warranty as to defects” is a statement made to a consumer made at or around the time of supply to rectify defects or to compensate the consumer, with a “consumer” being a person or business acquiring goods or services either:
 
  • costing less than $40,000; or
  • costing more than that amount but being ordinarily acquired for domestic, household or personal use or consumption; or
  • if the goods are a vehicle or trailer.

The mandatory text for any warranties as to defects in relation to the supply of goods only remains unchanged:

“Our goods come with guarantees that cannot be excluded under the Australian Consumer Law. You are entitled to a replacement or refund for a major failure and compensation for any other reasonably foreseeable loss or damage. You are also entitled to have the goods repaired or replaced if the goods fail to be of acceptable quality and the failure does not amount to a major failure.”

From 9 June 2019 however, there are new mandatory text requirements for warranties against defects when supplying services or when supplying goods with services.

Businesses that do not comply risk fines of up to $50,000 for companies and $10,000 for individuals per breach.

Any document evidencing any warranty against defects in relation to the supply of services only must state:

“Our services come with guarantees that cannot be excluded under the Australian Consumer Law. For major failures with the service, you are entitled:
  • to cancel your service contract with us; and
  • to a refund for the unused portion, or to compensation for its reduced value.

You are also entitled to be compensated for any other reasonably foreseeable loss or damage.

If the failure does not amount to a major failure, you are entitled to have problems with the service rectified in a reasonable time and, if this is not done, to cancel your contract and obtain a refund for the unused portion of the contract.”

and the mandatory text for the supply of goods and services is:

“Our goods and services come with guarantees that cannot be excluded under the Australian Consumer Law. For major failures with the service, you are entitled
  • to cancel your service contract with us; and
  • to a refund for the unused portion, or to compensation for its reduced value
You are also entitled to choose a refund or replacement for major failures with goods. If a failure with the goods or a service does not amount to a major failure, you are entitled to have the failure rectified in a reasonable time. If this is not done you are entitled to a refund for the goods and to cancel the contract for the service and obtain a refund of any unused portion. You are also entitled to be compensated for any other reasonably foreseeable loss or damage from a failure in the goods or service.”

If your business supplies services or goods and services, then it is likely that you need to update the mandatory text into your Terms and Conditions or your Contracts with your customers.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal.

For further information in relation to these new consumer laws, consumer rights or any business or commercial law matter, contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your needs.

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Contract to Make Mutual Wills

A Contract to make Mutual Wills is an agreement between 2 parties (usually a husband and wife, but can be a same sex couple or a de facto couple) to make Wills in an agreed form.

Usually, they provide that the parties may not act such that those Wills don’t get given effect to, such as:

  • revoking or destroying the Will;
  • making a new Will; or
  • disposing of assets so that they do not pass to the agreed beneficiaries

without the consent of the other party (or the executors/administrators of their estate  if they have died).

Often they are put in place when the parties have had a prior marriage or marriages and there are children of the prior relationship/s and the current relationship.

The benefit of such contracts (or deeds as they often are) is that the parties can take some comfort in providing for the other during their lifetimes (for example by gifting their entire estates to each other in their Wills), but with the overall distribution of their combined estates (on the death of the last of them) passing as agreed in the Wills made pursuant to the document.

Where a party breaches the agreement (such as by changing their Will), that party (or their estate) may be sued by the other party (or their executors/administrators if they have died) for breach of contract.

Whilst mutual Wills can be an effective estate planning tool, they are not for everyone and they can cause unintended complications due to their inflexibility, particularly around subsequent marriages, children and unexpected events following the death of a party.

As with most things, there are also other options or alternatives to consider to get a similar result, including creating life interests in real estate or establishing trusts.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to estate planning, business succession or any other commercial law matter, contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au.

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your estate planning needs.

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Employment Contracts

Are the Employment Contracts used by your business up to date?

Employees are arguably the most important asset of your business. They are also potentially one of the most risky.

Employees have contact with customers, form relationships with them, suppliers and referrers, have access to all of your other business assets such as databases, intellectual property and trade secrets.

When an employee leaves your organisation, there is potential for them to take more then their personal belongings with them when they go.

Employees are arguably the most important asset of your business. They are also potentially one of the most risky

For these reasons having a robust, yet commercial and flexible, employment agreement is essential.

What should your employment contract include?

At the very least, a contract of employment should include:

  • Position, duties and responsibilities (including whether full time, part time or casual)
  • Hours
  • Probation (for new employees or roles)
  • Remuneration and other benefits (including superannuation)
  • Leave entitlements (as well as obligations such as notice, reporting etc)
  • Confidentiality
  • Intellectual property ownership
  • Consenting to reasonable surveillance in the workplace
  • Obligation to comply with Workplace Policies including those relating to anti-discrimination and bullying, email and internet use and the like
  • Termination (including notice provisions that comply with the National Employment Standards)
  • Obligations on termination (such as returning property) and those that continue after termination (including appropriate and enforceable Restraints of Trade)
  • A copy of the Fair Work Information Statement

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to any employment related issue or any business/commercial law matter, contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your needs.

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What is an indemnity clause?

WHAT IS AN INDEMNITY CLAUSE?

An indemnity clause is a common clause in contracts, whether for the supply of goods, terms and conditions of the provision of services, leasing of assets or the sale of property.

The indemnity is intended to assign responsibility for risks in performing the contract to a particular party – it either confirms or alters the position at common law which would otherwise apply to determine responsibility for such events.

COMMON EXAMPLES

When drafting an indemnity, the nature and types of losses that may arise need to be considered.

Common areas that you may want an indemnity clause or limitation of liability cause to cover may include: negligence; injury to or the death of any person; loss of or damage to property; infringement of third party rights, such as intellectual property rights; duties and taxes; and legal costs and disbursements.

REMOTENESS & REASONABLE FORSEEABILITY

The common law (extending back to the 1854 case of Hadley v Baxendale) basically provides that if a head of damage wasn’t contemplated by the parties at the time of contracting (wasn’t reasonably foreseeable) or didn’t arise naturally arises from the breach according the usual course of thing (is too remote) – it may not be a recoverable loss.

Accordingly, if the damages that you may want the other party to wish the other party to bear on the occurrence of a certain event are considered remote, then they would probably not be recoverable at common law and therefore, you may wish to specifically provide for them in the clause.

The other party may not agree, so the negotiation would then begin and the parties will ultimately have to agree on what is a reasonable compromise in the circumstances.

DRAFTING THE INDEMNITY

Commonly, indemnity clauses are drafted such that where a right to indemnity arises, the liability reduced to the extent that the party benefited by the clause caused or contributed to the loss, that is reduced proportionally.

The extreme in indemnity clauses is where the liable party is liable absolutely (ie, there is no carve out to reduce the liability proportionally). This type of clause, given its strict nature, is usually only agreed to where the event is wholly within the control of the indemnifying party.

INSURANCE COVERAGE

Just as the strength of a personal guarantee is in the financial standing of the guarantor, you also need to be satisfied that the party providing the indemnity has the means to meet any claim if called upon. Often, a party is required to have insurance to support any indemnity but they fail to investigate the extent of their cover and are often not insured at all.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to any contract negotiation, agreement drafting issue commercial dispute, contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au.

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your legal concerns or objectives.

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What is a restraint of trade?

Post engagement restrictions

Often, employment contracts and contractor agreements contain restrictive covenants or ‘restraints of trade’ to protect businesses when an employee or service provider / contractor leaves.

So, what is a restraint of trade? A restraint of trade is effectively a restriction on the employee or contractor as to where they may work and who they may work for during, and for an agreed period after the termination of, their engagement. Restraints often restrict an employee’s ability to work for competing businesses and within a certain geographical area for a specified period of time.

How far can they go?

A valid restraint should only restrict activities reasonably necessary to protect the legitimate interests of the business that has the benefit of it. Those legitimate interests may include clients, referral relationships, trade secrets, confidential information and the like.

A restraint clause that is too wide, and therefore too restrictive, is generally unenforceable. A restraint should be tailored to accurately reflect the nature of the business activities being protected and only go so far as to protect them, when looked at reasonably. Where restraints seek to protect more than is reasonably necessary to protect the business, they can be struck down. There are public policy considerations in not preventing competition. Restraints are read strictly against the business that seeks to impose it.

Where there are no restraints in the employment or services agreement, there is no restraint and the business will only be able to rely upon their common law rights, which are often inadequate.

How are they enforced?

To enforce a restraint, the court requires that the party seeking to enforce it show that the restraint is reasonable – this will depend on the nature of the business, the restraint period, the restraint area and the nature of the work undertaken by the person or entity affected by it.

Often, enforcement takes the form of an injunction, seeking damages or an accounting for profits.

Further information

If you would like any more information in relation to employment law, disputes or business issues generally, please contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au

This information is general only and is not a substitute for proper legal advice. Please contact McKillop Legal to discuss your business and employment law needs.

The importance of proper Terms of Trade for your business

DOES YOUR BUSINESS EVEN HAVE ANY TERMS OF TRADE? IF SO, ARE THEY ADEQUATE (AND UP TO DATE)?

We all sell goods and services, but do we ever really stop and think about what it takes to have a valid contract? There are 4 essentials at law, namely:

  1.  Offer – what is being sold
  2. Consideration – the price
  3. Intention to legal consequences – this is presumed at law
  4. Acceptance – agreement to purchase

Even buying a bottle of water for $1 is entering into a contract. We know what is on offer, we know the cost, we know that once we pay the price, ownership changes hands and it is accepted by paying the price.

Certain things cannot be sold without a written and signed contract in a very specific format that contains certain prescribed documents and words – such as a contract for the sale of land. Most things however don’t need that sort of detailed documentation to form a legally effective and binding contract

Most T&Cs are terribly inadequate. Often they are just copied and pasted from other documents and not tailored, leaving businesses thinking they are adequately protected when they really are not.

Most businesses that have Terms of Trade have terribly inadequate ones and often, the terms don’t form part of the deal at all as they are notified too late – for example where they are printed on the back of a receipt after the deal is concluded. The Terms need to be agreed before the deal is done.

WHAT SHOULD BE IN YOUR TERMS OF TRADE?

Here is a some of the things that should at least be considered for Terms:

  • Parties names and details – Use proper names (a business name is not a legal entity). Who is the buyer/seller?
  • Quotes/estimates – Is it fixed price or based on hourly rates or quantities?
  • How is the offer accepted – Payment, signature, purchase order, ticking a box to acknowledge the terms and then clicking ‘submit’ for online businesses
  • Exclusivity – Is there any obligation not to deal with or sell to others?
  • Term – Is there a fixed term for the arrangement or is it ongoing?
  • Renewal – How can it be renewed and for what term?
  • Obligations – What other obligations (if any) do the parties have to each other?
  • Title – When does ownership to the goods actually pass?
  • Risk – Who is responsible for the goods whilst in transit?
  • Insurance – Who is to take it out? For what amount? To cover what risks?
  • Payment – How much? When is it due? How is it to be paid?
  • Interest – What is the consequence for paying late? What about liquidated damages?
  • Security – What security (if any) is provided to secure late/non-payment? Charge, Mortgage, PPSR Security Interest? Is a director to guarantee a company’s obligations?
  • Termination – On what basis? On what notice?
  • Notices – How are they given and what period of notice is required?
  • Obligations on termination – Return of goods, payment in full of all amounts due etc
  • Limitation of liability – To what extent is it limited? What liability can’t be excluded?
  • Releases and indemnities – What things may be covered by a release and what events is one party entirely responsible for?
  • Privacy – How is private information to be dealt with? Can you use their details to market other goods to them?
  • Warranties – What promises have been made about the product?
  • Entire agreement – is this agreement intended to cover the field regarding the parties’ dealings? Or are there numerous contracts that operate on other terms?
  • Force majeure – What happens if the parties can’t comply through no fault of their own, like a strike, accident or inclement weather?
  • Dispute resolution – What do the parties need to do to resolve a dispute? Mediate? Get an expert? Can they go to court without doing this?
  • Jurisdiction and governing law – which law applies and which court will hear any dispute? Really important for online trading!
  • Delegation – Can a party delegate their role to a third party? How? Do they need approval?
  • Assignment – Can a party assign the benefit of the contract to someone else?
  • Confidentiality – Are the terms of the deal to be kept secret? Are staff also to be restrained?
  • Intellectual property – Who owns the IP? How is it to be used/returned?

If you buy, hire, sell or on-sell goods or services, whether through a shopfront or on-line (or you have a client that does so), please consider whether they actually even have any Terms and Conditions of Trade or if they do, whether they are adequate.

If they do have T&Cs, it may be that they simply copied and pasted various parts from other documents and websites they had seen. This can often lead to them mistakenly thinking they are adequately protected when they actually are not.

They may need to be updated to reflect recent changes in the law such as the Australian Consumer Law and the Personal Property Securities Act (or if they refer to legislation that doesn’t even exist anymore! (Such as the old Corporations Law and the Trade Practices Act).

FURTHER INFORMATION

Craig Pryor is principal solicitor at McKillop Legal. For further information in relation to starting or buying a business, drafting business documents or any other commercial law matter, contact Craig Pryor on (02) 9521 2455 or email craig@mckilloplegal.com.au.