Q. How should an employee handbook disclaimer be worded? Is any specific language required in order for the disclaimer to be effective?
A. No specific language is required. That said, an effective disclaimer would address three issues:
- That the handbook does not affect the employer’s status as an at-will employer
- That the handbook does not constitute a contract.
- That the handbook is subject to change at any time.
This language should not only help preserve the employer’s at-will status, but also keep other provisions of the handbook—such as vacation, sick leave or severance pay policies—from creating enforceable contract rights.
Disclaimers should be clearly worded and conspicuous—for example, in a different font, larger type, bolded, underlined or in all caps. Also, the disclaimer should be placed prominently within the handbook, appearing often as appropriate.
For example, if a handbook establishes a disciplinary procedure, place an at-will employment disclaimer immediately following the section. Similarly, if a handbook addresses how employees accrue sick leave or paid vacation, include the “not a contract” and “subject to change” disclaimers in this section.
On the other hand, if a handbook includes provisions that the employer may need to enforce against an employee (e.g., an arbitration procedure or a nondisclosure of confidential information provision), then take care not to disclaim the contractual nature of these provisions. Preferably, these items should be separate documents to which the handbook refers. This way they bind the employee without destroying the at-will employment relationship.
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