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Alkalay & Smillie, PLLC

in Mt. Washington Valley, New Hampshire

Office: (603) 447-8994
Fax: (603) 297-2866

Articles of Interest

Attorney Edward Alkalay writes a regular column for the Conway Daily Sun newspaper entitled "The Legal Corner." His articles address a wide variety of timely legal issues. Click on the titles below to review his past articles.

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The Legal Corner: Should Employers Have Employee Handbooks?


Under the best of circumstances, employers and employees work together toward a mutually beneficial (and profitable) relationship. Even in less than perfect employment situations, an employer and employee often have an understanding of what is expected of one another, and work together efficiently. However, sometimes an issue arises which alters a previously workable employer-employee relationship. Under good, bad, or indifferent employer-employee relationships, is it advisable for employers to have an Employee Handbook? The answer to this question is not a simple \"yes\" or \"no\". It depends upon the circumstances of the employer, the size of the organization, and the management philosophy of a particular employer.

Employers are not legally required to have employee handbooks. However, many employers choose to have employee handbooks so that the rules of the employer are recorded, the benefit information is readily accessible to employees, and a variety of other information is maintained in one central document. There are both advantages and disadvantages to an employee handbook. Some of the advantages include: an employer’s workplace philosophy will (or should) be clear to all employees; there will likely be better and more open communication between employer and employee; both employers’ and employees’ rights within the workplace will be clearly documented; and the workplace rules should be the same for all similarly-situated employees. Moreover, an employee handbook can help to foster camaraderie by clearly communicating to employees what is expected of each employee, and what benefits, financial and otherwise, employees can hope to gain by working together to meet or exceed job requirements.

However, there are disadvantages to poorly drafted handbooks. Some potential disadvantages of employee handbooks include: an employer may unknowingly grant employees more rights than they are entitled to under the law; imprecise language can create misunderstandings between employers and employees; and procedures within the handbook that are not followed by the employer may cause an employer to lose credibility or may even form the basis for legal action in some circumstances.

For example, suppose that an employer requests that an employee complete some task that is well within the job responsibilities of the employee. The employee (who has had a bad attitude for several months) responds, \"I’m not doing that. You don’t pay me enough to do that.\" Then the employee storms off grumbling critical thoughts of the employer. Certainly, many employers would view an insubordinate act like this as sure-fire grounds for termination. However, if your employee handbook states that all employees receive a written warning prior to termination, you may set yourself up for a legal claim if the employee is terminated without a written warning. (While it is true that New Hampshire is an at-will employment state, an employee cannot be terminated for an illegal reason such as discrimination or violation of an employee contract.)

If an employer decides to have an employee handbook, it should be regularly updated so that all of the provisions in the handbook match applicable changes within the law. The handbook should be regularly distributed to all employees both upon starting with an employer and when any changes are made. To protect an employer’s legal rights, the employer should have each employee sign a receipt when they receive a copy of the employee handbook. An employer may also want to have a provision written in the receipt indicating that the employee understands that the manual is for informational purposes, and does not create an employment contract between the employer and the employee.

In conclusion, an employee handbook though not legally required, may be helpful for employers to have for a variety of reasons. Moreover, if an employer decides to have an employee handbook, it can be written with or without a lawyer’s help. However, it is imperative that the proper time and effort go into writing it. An employee handbook should make an employer’s life easier and his/her business more profitable, and it likely will achieve these goals if it is well thought out and carefully drafted.

Edward D. Alkalay is a partner at Alkalay & Smillie PLLC and can be reached at (603)447-8994 or ed@northconwaylawyers.com. (This article conveys general information and should not be relied on for legal advice without further research and/or consultation with an attorney.)

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By: Edward D. Alkalay