Suppose your organization decides to alter its retirement plan. You shoot out an e-mail about the change, but fail to secure written proof that employees have read and understand the modifications.
Three months later, an employee retires based on promises made in the old retirement plan, resulting in lost pension dollars. He sues, saying he never got wind of the retirement-plan change. This true story occurs surprisingly often in U.S. workplaces.
“If you don’t get written or electronic acknowledgment, you may be playing with fire,” says Jonathan Landesman, an employment-law attorney with Cohen Seglias in Philadelphia. “You could be looking at a variety of things, including tort and discrimination claims, wrongful discharge or breach of contract.”
Here are five tips for securing acknowledgment of policy changes from your employees:
1. Paper or digital? Require acknowledgment either way: through a signed paper form or by sending an e-mail that requires some type of electronic recognition.
2. Include a four-point disclaimer. Acknowledgment forms should include a short disclaimer that says: The worker remains employed at will; nothing in the new policy creates a contract of employment; the employee understands that he or she can ask any question about the new policy; nothing in the policy changes the nature of the employee’s relationship with the employer.
3. Stay away from oral acknowledgments. Memories can fade and people leave your company. Even your notes of those oral OKs could be challenged in court.
4. When in doubt, request an acknowledgment. Your organization is most vulnerable to lack of acknowledgments of changes in policies involving issues such as sexual harassment, discrimination and the . But play it safe: Request acknowledgments for all changes, even those you consider minor.
“Chances are it won’t come back to hurt you,” says Landesman, “but it’s still best to have employees sign off.”
5. Retain those acknowledgments for at least three years after an employee leaves. That creates an audit trail to prove employees knew about a new policy and you did everything you could to inform them.
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