Have a general question about employment law? Want to share a story? I welcome all comments and questions. I can't give legal advice here about specific situations but will be glad to discuss general issues and try to point you in the right direction. If you need legal advice, contact an employment lawyer in your state. Remember, anything you post here will be seen publicly, and I will comment publicly on it. It will not be confidential. Govern yourself accordingly. If you want to communicate with me confidentially as Donna Ballman, Florida lawyer rather than as Donna Ballman, blogger, my firm's website is here.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Stupid HR Stuff: Can Anyone Tell Me the Point In Not Giving Copies of Contracts and Policies?

I’m sure this doesn’t apply to you. You’re one of the smart HR people. You have no dumba-- tendencies at all. But maybe you know someone who does this, so feel free to pass it on.

Noncompete, Confidentiality and Non-Solicitation Agreements

At least once a month, I have to request a copy of a former employee’s noncompete, confidentiality or non-solicitation agreement. Why? Because HR refused to give them a copy when they signed it.

My conversation with the client after they get the nastygram from the company lawyer usually goes like this:

Me: “Do you have a copy of the agreement?”

Client: “No.”

Me: “Why not?”

Client: “They told me it’s their policy not to give copies.”

Me: Pounds head on desk. “Then how are you supposed to know what you’re not allowed to do?”

Client: Shrugs.

Better yet, there’s this conversation:

Me: “Do you remember even signing an agreement?”

Client: “I don’t think I did. They handed me a bunch of papers my first day, but I think I’d know if I signed a noncompete.”

So I ask you, what the heck is the point of withholding the agreement? Better yet, I’m having a conversation right now with a company representative where, even after the nastygram, they’re refusing to give me a copy of the agreement. Apparently, I’m supposed to rely on their good word that: a. my client signed anything and b. they agreed not to work in their profession anywhere in the universe for a year. Hello? Anyone in there? It’s your burden to prove the contract exists, not mine.

If you can’t prove it to me, I assume what you’re saying is BS. Because about 1/3 of the time, employers claim that employees signed agreements that don’t exist just to scare and bully them into not working for a competitor. And don’t even think about forging one. I have a handwriting expert, and I’m not afraid to use him. (Yes, this really happens.)

The point of a noncompete agreement is to tell the employee what they are and aren’t allowed to do. If you don’t give them a copy, they have no idea. So you can’t blame them when they accidentally breach, can you? I’d like to hear you explain to a judge or jury how the employee was on notice of their obligations when you wouldn’t give them a copy. Can anyone say unclean hands?

Employee Handbook

Even better than this idiocy is the company that has the employee sign a paper saying they’ve been given the company handbook. When I ask where it is, the employee tells me they didn’t get a copy. Why? The company considers the handbook confidential. Say what?

The point of the handbook is to inform employees what is expected of them. What’s the point of refusing to give it to them? Are you that financially desperate that you can’t afford the $2.50 to copy it for them? Is it worth risking losing out on the defense you have if they fail to report sexual harassment when there’s a published sexual harassment policy? Do you think having them sign a paper saying they received it will make a difference when the jury hears that you made them sign something that wasn’t true? Why on earth wouldn’t you want employees to understand what conduct is prohibited? Why wouldn’t you want them to understand your absentee, discipline, and dress code policies?

Enlighten Me, Please

Maybe someone out there in HR can enlighten me. Because I see this refusal to make copies as pointless and stupid, maybe even dangerous to the employer and its ability to win a lawsuit down the road.

Some advice if you don’t want someone like me sitting across from a table taking your deposition: make sure your employees get copies of everything they sign, and that they understand what they’ve agreed to. Otherwise, how can they possibly do what you want?

Okay. Rant over. For now.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Seems like an employer who does this will have a hard time arguing to a judge that the employee was supposed to know what their restrictions were, doesn't it? Really foolish on the employer's part.

  4. My understanding is that the employee has the legal right to a copy of anything that they have signed....at any time (during or after employment). This is bad HR practice in my opinion. And yes, the non-disclosure/non-compete agreement SHOULD be something that the employer WANTS the employee to have to avoid issues to begin with. Craziness...

  5. What can you do if your former employer refuses to or cannot provide you with a copy of the employee handbook you signed. I ask this because I was fired without a written warning and remember that it was specifically stated in the handbook that a written warning is it be given before termination.

    1. Hi Jessica. Your question will be answered August 9 here: http://employeeatty.blogspot.com/2013/07/answers-to-questions-on-veterans-rights.html

  6. Ive recently asked my HR department of 6. 5 years if I can have a copy of my employment contract as the company just decided to do shift work without our consent and if forcing the hour change (husband and I only have one vehicle and can't afford another). HR department said that they don't have a copy of it in my file or a copy of it on the computer. I've asked 3 times now and I know they aren't giving it to me because it clearly states my hours and doesn't say that it will change. I'm not a right fighter but I absolutely can't change my 8 am start shift to 6:30am as well as work 3 pm to 11:30pm for afternoon's and the company is telling me to consent or resign... they won't dismiss me because they would have to pay me severance. I don't know what to do now, it's looking as if I have to walk away as they are refusing my original contract to me...

  7. My company that I have been working for for 6. 5 years on straight days has just demanded that we work a mandatory shift work. My husband and I share a vehicle and the hours they are making mandatory prevent me from getting too and from (day and afternoon shift). I asked my HR department for my original employment contract and they responded that it is missing from my file and will search for it. I've had to ask three more times and now this lady is avoiding me. They told us about this shift change on March 13th and want us to sign our consent papers but March 31st or else we will be signing resignation papers. Isn't this insanely illegal?

    1. Hi Lindsay. My guess is they lost the contract. They, of course, can't make you sign a resignation. Don't do it unless they offer something substantial like a decent severance package in exchange for your signature. Talk to an employment lawyer in your state about your rights.

  8. A friend of mine resigned from a company, but before she could go.. They took from her all her copies of the contract, the ncc and the policies without giving the reason why... is it in the rights of every employee to have a copy of those?


I appreciate your comments and general questions but this isn't the place to ask confidential legal questions. If you need an employee-side employment lawyer, try http://exchange.nela.org/findalawyer to locate one in your state.