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.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Everything You Wanted To Know About Your Employee Handbook (That You Didn't Bother To Read)

In most states, your company handbook isn’t a contract. They don’t have to follow their own procedures. However, some employers are starting to make employees sign them and add things like an agreement to arbitrate all claims against the employer or a waiver of jury trial.

You will want to read your handbook and understand your rights and responsibilities. Sections you’ll want to pay extra careful attention to are:

Discrimination policy: Where do you report discrimination? Who do you report it to if your supervisor is the discriminating person? If you’re a federal employee, your deadlines are extremely short, so be aware. Know your policies before you need them.

Harassment policy: Ignore that they’ll say to report all harassment. But do report harassment based on race, age, sex, national origin, disability, genetic information, religion, color, whistleblowing, making a worker’s comp claim, or taking Family and Medical Leave. Follow the published policy to the letter (except if it says to report verbally, make sure you also report in writing).

Sick leave/personal leave: Understand who you have to call and how far in advance. Don’t give them an excuse to fire you.

Family and Medical Leave: The employer has to publish the process you must follow to take FMLA leave. Make sure you follow all the steps and get them whatever medical certifications you need to provide.

Donna’s tips:

a. Knowing your handbook makes sense. These are the employer’s rules and you have to follow them.

b. Make sure you keep your copy of the handbook. If the employer wants you to sign saying you’ve received it but they won’t let you keep it, sign, then write, “saw briefly, not allowed to keep a copy.”

c. Pay attention to those updates that the employer sends around in memo form.

d. If it’s a contract for one party, it’s a contract for both. Be careful what you sign. If your company wants you to sign away your rights, have a lawyer take a look, or make sure you understand what you’re agreeing to.

e. If the company fails to follow its own policies, that might be evidence of discrimination or retaliation if they follow the policies for other employees.


  1. If a company doesn't follow the policies for all employees, it often feels like they're favoring others and discriminating or retaliating against some but, if simply based on favoritism, is that illegal?

  2. Hi AOB. Favoritism isn't illegal, but if they are favoring (or disfavoring) people of a particular race, national origin, sex, age, religion, disability, color, etc. then it could be illegal discrimination. Similarly, if those singled out for worse treatment have made worker's comp claims, objected to illegal activity, taken Family and Medical Leave, done jury duty, or something else protected, the favoritism might be illegal retaliation. If it's just because they favor their friends or family, they're allowed to do that.


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.