Once an offer of employment has been made and accepted a binding contract is formed, regardless of whether or not the terms of the offer have been put in writing. It is, of course, nevertheless important that all the key terms of the contract are presented in writing and, indeed there is a statutory obligation to provide certain information in written form (the 'written statement of particulars of employment') under the Employment Rights Act 1996. This statement must be provided within two months of the employee starting work although employers tend to provide this at the outset of employment to ensure that the employee has had the opportunity to read and understand all the information contained within it.
How the required information, plus any other additional contractual terms and conditions which the employer wishes to include, is presented to the employee is not prescribed. In practice it is often a mixture of an initial offer letter which sets out the main terms (and conditions attached to the offer of employment) and a subsequent more detailed document, either in the form of a 'written statement of particulars' or an employment contract (see our FAQs for the technical differences between the two).
For speed, it is often simpler to produce an offer letter soon after the verbal offer is made which details basic terms (usually job title, start date, salary, pay arrangements, hours of work and the nature of the contract (if temporary for example)) as well as the conditions attached to the offer, as candidates will often want evidence of the offer before tendering their resignation or withdrawing from any other interviews. Full terms can then be sent in due course when there has been time to draw these up.
In our guidance and information section you can find detailed advice documents on various contractual matters, such as drawing up contracts, matters relating to temporary and fixed-term contracts, secondments and job shares. In our templates and tools you can download a range of example offer letters, template contracts and contract change letters as well as example secondment and job share agreements. Our FAQs cover some commonly-asked questions on offers and contracts.