Employers will be required to have a signed copy of each employee's individual employment agreement or, where the employee has yet to sign, a copy of the intended agreement from 1 July 2011.

These agreements must be available to the employee on request.

There will be penalties for non-compliance, although before bringing an action the Department of Labour must give employers seven working days to fix the problem.

The new requirement, which applies to existing agreements, will make it much harder to argue that an unsigned agreement is binding so it is now even more important to ensure that the contract is signed before the employee starts work.