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Use plain language on work documents so everyone can understand them

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Most companies employ a broad range of workers with varying backgrounds. Those who are well-educated will have no trouble reading and understanding an application or employee handbook. Others may have a harder time understanding what they are reading. Still others may not speak or read English.

That’s why it’s important to use plain language when drafting any documents your employees need to read. Use direct, simple sentences and a readable font. That way, everyone from the janitor to the CEO will understand the rules.

Plus, courts rarely interfere with agreements that are clear and unambiguous and that employees enter into freely. That happens only if the material is readable.

Recent case: Carlos Olvera managed an El Pollo Loco restaurant when the company presented documents containing large text, in both English and Spanish, accompanied with a drawing, that required “the employee and the company [to] use a mediator ...” to resolve conflicts.

Farther down, in smaller print and in English only, the document said, “All employment-related disputes must be resolved through binding arbitration.” The company urged employees to sign the document.

Olvera sued on behalf of himself and other low-paid employees, arguing that the agreement was unconscionable because the employees had little choice and didn’t understand what they were signing.

The court agreed and let the class-action lawsuit proceed. (Olvera v. El Pollo Loco, No. B205343, California Court of Appeal, 2nd Appellate District, 2009)

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