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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
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
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 Outdated content in an employee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
- 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
- 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
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.
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