The importance of an employee handbook can be understood from the fact that it sets out the tone for major policies relating to employment. A handbook is a kind of reference tool for employees and employers alike. To employees, it states the expectations organizations have from them. From the employer’s perspective, it is a clear manner of stating what the employees are expected to do in terms of service conditions, behavior, dispute settlement, etc.
An important, in fact, perhaps the most important aspect of the employee handbook is the section on disclaimers. The employee handbook disclaimer is the part of the employee handbook which gives employers a degree of defense against legal actions from an employee who gets fired. It is a strong insulation against such actions from employees who believe they were fired in contravention of the terms of employment conditions that were assumed or implied.
Having an employee handbook without a disclaimer gives the employee the opportunity the upper hand when she decides to file a case for wrongful disclosure in the event of termination of service. Most legal jurisdictions rely on the employee handbook to decide if there was any justifiable action or inaction on the part of the employee that led to the termination. If there is no disclaimer in place stating the conditions under which an employee can be removed, then, the employer is standing on weak ground.
So, what are the essential disclaimers that your employee handbook should contain?<
The most important aspect of an employee handbook disclaimer is the nature of employment. This is the very soul of an employee handbook disclaimer. It is necessary to state the nature of the contract of employment: whether at-will, project-specific, consulting, part-time, freelance, ad-hoc or any other. The most common kind of problem employers face as far as legal actions from employees are concerned is from regular employees.
The employee handbook disclaimer should state the nature of at will employee contracts. At will employees are those whose service can be terminated by giving the requisite notice. If the employee handbook disclaimer overlooks this vital piece of the contract, the organization invites serious trouble, because it gives the employee the opportunity to go to court and state that the employer had acted outside its legal ambit in terminating her.
Remember that an employee handbook disclaimer is not the same as that of an ad. In an ad, it is possible to get away with the very broad expression, “terms and conditions apply” in the smallest of prints (ironically called fine print) at the remotest and most nondescript part of the ad, which can be interpreted in a wide number of ways. But an employee handbook disclaimer is one of its most important and essential elements. So, it has to be part of the main text.
The wordings of the employee handbook disclaimer should be completely specific and even explicit. It should not be ambiguous. This is important to bear in mind because if the employee who has been terminated takes legal action against the employer, the vague wordings of the disclaimer can be a strong point of defense. This is quite natural, because when the employer is not specific about a requirement or expectation, how is the employee expected to understand and implement it? It gives her the freewill to interpret it in any manner that suits her.
The employee handbook disclaimer should also give the employer some leeway in making changes into the employee handbook whenever needed. This point can be misunderstood and has to be explained thus: the freedom to change the employee handbook is not given to make any changes at will in a manner that suits the employer and use it to fire an employee.
What this provision means is that the employee handbook disclaimer should mention that the employee handbook is open or liable to change at any time based on changed working conditions. This change should be applicable to every employee and each employee should be informed of the change. The employee handbook disclaimer should also state that the latest version that has undergone the change is the extant version upon which all the decisions will be made.