Topic of the Week Are You Familiar With Your Employer's Policies?
Generally an employer provides its employees with a handbook or workplace policies to set forth expected behavior and procedures within the workplace. Employer policies can impact your ability to bring a claim in court and in some cases can create contracts between the employer and employee.
1. Does an employer have to follow its own handbook or personnel policy?
Some state courts have held that an employer handbook is a contract unless the handbook expressly states that it is not a contract. If the handbook is deemed to be a contract by the court, then the employer can be liable for breaching that contract if it fails to follow the procedures outlined within the handbook. For example your handbook might state that employees “will” rather than “may” receive a severance package- in the past this has been interpreted to create an obligation on behalf of an employer to provide a severance package for its employees.
2. My employer has a general policy, but it only seems to affect certain employees- is this legal?
It is true that sometimes facially neutral policies (policies that are applied to all employees equally and are not expressly illegal) can sometimes violate the law.
For example, a policy may prohibit promotion when an employee takes off four or more consecutive weeks during the year. A policy like this would tend to discriminate against women who took time off due to pregnancy or employees who were sick or otherwise temporarily disabled. Individuals negatively affected by a policy like this could potentially file a lawsuit against their employer.