Although there are no laws that require employers to provide employee handbooks to their employees, there are many reasons why employers should. What is an employee handbook? An employee handbook is a document that, among other things, consolidates employment policies, provides answers to common questions about the employment relationship, formally welcomes new employees, and explains the mutual expectations and obligations that arise from the employment relationship. Handbooks that effectively detail and explain workplace policies can help an employer minimize liability with respect to employment-related lawsuits or claims and promote company transparency.
With the benefits, however, come the risks. Employee handbooks are generally contractual in nature. Employers in New York must have carefully drafted employee handbooks that (1) do not create legal obligations that the employer never intended to create and (2) contain provisions reserving certain rights of the employer.
Here are our best practices when it comes to employee handbooks –
An employee handbook is one of the best ways for employers to protect themselves from the risks of employment-related lawsuits. To maximize this protection, employers should include (1) a prominent disclaimer that the employment relationship is "at-will" and (2) a provision that confirms the employer's right to modify the handbook at its discretion.
An "at-will" disclaimer should inform employees that they are employed on an at-will basis. What is at-will employment? An at-will employment relationship is one that can be terminated by either the employee or the employer at any time and for any reason, as long as the reason is not discriminatory or otherwise violative of the law. The disclaimer should be featured prominently and state that nothing in the handbook is to be interpreted to create an employment contract. Avoiding the creation of an employment contract—which can happen inadvertently—helps to minimize an employer's exposure to liability.
A provision that confirms the employer's right to modify the handbook is also essential. Labor and employment law, especially in New York, is constantly evolving. Outdated content in an employee handbook exposes employers to the risk of liability. Employers should reserve their right to modify their handbooks so that they can be updated regularly.
Guidelines vs. Promises
A well-drafted handbook is generally a set of nonbinding guidelines, policies, and procedures—not promises. A solid handbook will not create any more legal obligations on the part of the employer than was originally intended.
Drafting an Employee Handbook
While employee handbooks should be tailored to the specific needs of an employer's workplace, the following guidelines can make the difference between a good handbook and a great one for any employer:
- Employers should use a positive and professional tone that matches their workplace culture.
- Unnecessary and complex legal terms should be avoided—it's not a contract, it's a handbook. Employees will be better able to understand the policies and procedures being set forth if the handbook is written in plain language.
- Include enough information for the policies to be understood, but avoid including so much detail as to overwhelm employees.
- Avoid using language or creating policies that can be interpreted to create contractual obligations.
- Include the contact information of the person the employee should contact if he or she has any questions about the handbook.
If you own a business with any number of employees, it is crucial that you have an up-to-date employee handbook. At KI Legal, we specialize in employment law and customized legal compliance packages, a big part of which includes the creation of tailor-made employee handbooks. Being ahead of the game is key. Regardless of the size or type of business, you can rely on KI Legal to provide you with a robust employee handbook that will be customized to fit all your business needs. To speak to our labor & employment attorneys, call (212) 404-8644 or email email@example.com.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.