October 4, 2021, by HR Search & Rescue In most states, employment is something that is protected by certain rules and regulations. In most cases, employees are protected under an employment contract they sign before beginning work, which can protect them from discrimination, unnecessary termination, and other factors. Termination can be unlawful due to certain laws against discrimination or retaliation, or when the termination violates an employment contract. This is where an employee handbook may come into play. There are a variety of different types of employee handbooks, and some can actually include legal language in them. It all just depends on how the employee handbook is written and what they are meant to cover. This can vary across organizations, which makes it important to understand what to look for and the different types of handbooks that are out there. What is an Employee Handbook? An employee handbook, sometimes also known as an employee manual, staff handbook, or company policy manual, is a book given to employees by an employer. The employee handbook is typically used to compile employment and job-related information that employees are required to learn before they begin work. There are a variety of different approaches to employee handbooks, with some including more detailed information surrounding the company, culture, as well as legal expectations and agreements. The key thing to note in the manual is the language that is used and if there is an agreement to be signed. Employee Handbooks That Function As Contracts There are companies that create employee handbooks to be legally binding. These employee handbooks will typically have a more contractually binding language that is used. This includes words such as “shall” and similar verbiage referring to the employee’s obligations. Additionally, these handbooks are often written to be absorbed and agreed to before beginning work at the organization. If the handbook was written for this purpose, there will often be a clause at the end for the employee to sign. This implies a legal obligation and that all of the information contained in the handbook is mutually agreed upon by both parties. This makes it important to be mindful of the clauses that are present in the handbook and what you are agreeing to. For example, as we mentioned, these handbooks can include clauses that mention what rights they have to terminate employees. Employee Handbooks That Are Not Considered Contracts On the other hand, there are plenty of companies that separate their employee handbook from the more legally binding paperwork employees need to handle. These types of handbooks are often more casual and meant to be used throughout your time at the company. They will contain sections that explain what is expected from employees, info about the company culture, workplace expectations, time off, and other common notes provided by employers to new hires. These handbooks will most likely not contain any binding language and will be more informational in nature. Employment Handbooks That Create Implied Contracts In contract law, however, there is such a thing as an “implied” contract. There are situations where the way the handbook is worded or presented can create an implied contract. This occurs if a court finds it was reasonable to assume that an employee should have understood that a binding promise was made. To protect against this, it is important that employers make it very clear in the handbook that it is or is not a contract and can be changed at any time. That language in most cases makes it unreasonable for the employee to expect any binding promises to have been made and is in the best interest of both parties. Why It Is Important To Craft Direct Employee Handbooks As we can tell, it is essential to define what role your employee handbook will play for your employees. As an employer, make sure you are clear in your language and whether or not the handbook is legally binding and is meant to serve as a contract. Either approach works fine, but the key is to reduce misunderstandings with employees and avoid conflicts related to the terms that were agreed to. HR Search and Rescue is a full-service HR consulting group that specializes in maximizing workplace efficiency. Our team specializes in solving challenging workplace issues with their proven approach and friendly service. Reach out to us online to discuss the creation of your employee handbook today.