Employers often give every new hire a copy of a company's employee handbook. Employee handbooks usually outline employment policies that must be followed by both the employer and its employees. At first, you may not think much of your employee handbook. But if you ever find yourself in a legal dispute with your employer it can become your greatest asset.
Employee Handbooks Sometimes Create Contracts
Employers sometimes draft their employee handbooks using language that unintentionally creates an employment contract with employees. When this occurs, it usually benefits employees, since part of the handbook will be interpreted as the employer's promise rather than just a policy.
For example, your employer's handbook might state that terminated employees "will" instead of "may" receive a severance package. Some courts would enforce this policy as a contract, and require your employer to pay you a severance.
All Employees Should Face the Same Disciplinary Procedures
Employers are not required to include a disciplinary policy in an employee handbook. If your employer does, all employees should be subject to the same process.
Suppose your employer's policy allows three unexcused absences per year before an employee is suspended without pay, but you're suspended after your first absence. Suspending you isn't illegal, but this deviation from the policy can be used as evidence that your employer is intentionally and illegally discriminating against you because of your gender, race, or some other protected factor.
Some Policies Harm Certain Groups of Employees
There are times when the policies in employee handbooks have discriminating consequences on specific groups of employees, such as women or immigrants.
The employee handbook might contain a promotion policy that prohibits employees from being promoted if they take off four or more consecutive weeks during the year. This may prevent promotions of women because of pregnancies or employees who were sick because of medical leave. Those negatively affected by this type of policy may have a valid reason to file a lawsuit against their employer.
You Can Use Your Employer's Handbook in Your Favor
If your employer's handbook requires that a certain sequence of procedures must be followed before you can be fired, deviation from this requirement may be grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit.
An Employment Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding employee handbooks is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact an employment lawyer.