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When’s a handbook not a handbook? When everyone ignores it

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

No doubt, your organization has an employee handbook. You may even have helped draft it or agonized over the amount of money you paid a law firm to create or review it. But one thing is certain—having a handbook won’t do you any good if no one in the company uses it.

Resolve now that 2008 will be the year every new employee will receive a copy of the handbook and training on it before starting work. Further resolve that you will train every supervisor and manager on how to apply the wisdom the handbook contains. Then, when it’s evaluation time, include adherence to the handbook as part of the evaluation criteria.

Last, but not least, review all disciplinary actions to make absolutely certain you followed the handbook.

Recent case: Lisa Plebani sued her former employer, Bucks County Rescue Emergency Medical Services, alleging she had been sexually harassed. When her case came up in federal court, her former employer dragged out its handbook and pointed to a clause requiring arbitration to resolve all employment disputes.

The employer demanded the case be dismissed and sent to private arbitration.

There was only one problem. Just about everyone had been ignoring the handbook for years.

Plebani said she didn’t get a copy when she was hired. She said she was certain she never signed an acknowledgment that she received one, nor did she understand that accepting the job was contingent on accepting the arbitration clause.

Plus, the employer came up with only two handbook receipt signatures from other new employees, and couldn’t prove it consistently used the handbook for discipline or anything else.

The court said the arbitration agreement wasn’t valid and allowed the federal case to go forward. (Plebani v. Bucks County Rescue Emergency Medical Services, No. 03-5816, ED PA, 2007)

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