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Just how important are employee handbooks?

Until relatively recently, employment contracts were not generally taken into consideration in court during employment disputes. It was not until 1980 that the employment relationship between employer and employee was addressed in American courts. Essentially, employment is an agreement between an employee and employer that one will provide services in exchange for pay.

A contract is a legally enforceable agreement between both parties, and courts will look at such "promises" when rendering decisions in the court of law. An employee handbook is a document to help bridge the gap between employee and employer so that there is a firm agreement and understanding of expectations in writing by both sides.

If you are employed and your employee offers a handbook, it is immensely helpful to have a full understanding of its contents -- including any disclaimers that may be hiding within the handbook. Disclaimers may include stipulations that an employee may not be aware of. Such disclaimers may ultimately lead to a termination of employment that otherwise would not be considered "just cause" for dismissal.

The wording within an employee handbook may be difficult to understand or comprehend. It may seem like a chore to sift through all the legal jumbo and understand what it all means. One may want to speak with a legal professional familiar with employment law to get a better understanding of the contract between and employee and employer. This will be important if an employment dispute were to occur later down the line. Protecting yourself today may help you from a conflict or issue tomorrow or further in the future.

Source: American Bar Association, "The Basics of Employment Contracts," Christine Godsil Cooper, Accessed on July 11, 2016

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