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Don’t let manual become a contract—Make sure employees sign ‘At-Will’ notice

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources

Ohio is an at-will employment state, meaning that employees can be fired (and quit) for any reason or no reason as long as the employer doesn’t violate a specific anti-discrimination or other law. But employers and employees can change their relationships to a contractual one by agreement. If they do, then it becomes much harder to fire that employee without a rock-solid reason.

Some employees and their attorneys argue that employers that provide an employment manual create a contractual relationship, binding the employer to the terms in the manual. That means any promises made in the manual become contractual obligations.

You can best protect your organization from this possibility by putting a disclaimer in the manual and making the employee acknowledge in writing that he understands the handbook is not a contract.

Recent case: Fred Sharrer lost his job with an auto body shop and tried to sue for disability discrimination. But Sharrer wasn’t impaired enough to be disabled under either the ADA or Ohio’s disability discrimination law.

Sharrer then tried to argue he couldn’t be fired without cause because the employee manual created a contract removing him from at-will status.

The court tossed out his case after the body shop showed the court a written acknowledgment Sharrer had signed when he took the job and got a copy of the handbook. It specifically stated that the handbook was not a contract and that Sharrer agreed he was an at-will employee who could be fired without cause. (Sharrer v. LaRiche Subaru, No. 3:06-CV-7012, ND OH, 2007)

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