All businesses have their own internal operating procedures. In many small businesses, these workplace rules may be unwritten and if you have a question, you may simply ask the owner. For a larger operation, such ad hoc procedures may be too unwieldy and difficult to manage.
This typically leads to a written employee handbook, that allows all employees and managers clear guidance for their behavior in the workplace. The often are distributed during employee orientation and employees are instructed to use them as a reference.
The danger for many employers is that they fail to have a careful legal review performed before issuing these handbooks and that can cause problems. A recent example of this is Quicken Loans, which is being sued by the National Labor Relations Board for an overly restrictive of employee’s free speech rights.
The company was placed in the unfortunate position of arguing as a defense that the handbook was ignored and not used for personnel decisions. The danger with this argument is that it opens an employer to other employment litigation claims, which could be based on that assertion.
When it comes to rules governing your workplace, stating that the written handbook is ignored could undermine the employer’s case when it attempts to discipline any employee for violations of rules that are contained within the handbook. The employee could argue that the handbook cannot be relied on, as it is never used and is “ignored.”
It could also lead to confusion and contradictory decisions by various levels of management that can only cause more problems and potentially expensive litigation.
The better strategy is to work to ensure that your handbook is accurate and that it does provide guidance for personnel decisions and workplace behavior and that it does not overreach, to prohibit behavior that would run afoul of employment and labor laws.
Source: crainsdetroit.com, “Quicken Loans denies employee rules book violated free-speech rights,” Associated Press, December 9, 2015