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Employee Handbooks: Are They a Good Idea?


If you have a business, having an employee manual-or some kind of handbook, or policies and procedures manual—can help your employees understand what is expected of them, create an atmosphere of openness, and can let employees know what is and is not expected of them.

But employee manuals come with one possible downfall: many people are concerned that they potentially waive the at-will employment status of your employees.

What is At-Will Employment?

Like many states, in Florida, you don’t need a reason to fire an employee. So long as you aren’t violating some state or federal law (for example, disability, race, gender, pregnancy or age discrimination), you can fire someone for whatever reason you want, whenever you want.

But the at-will status of an employee changes, if that employee has an actual, written, and agreed-to employment contract. When there is an employment contract in place, the contract and its terms dictate when an employee can be fired, and the employee can sue under the contract, if the employee feels that he or she was fired in violation of its terms.

The Employee Handbook

And there is the potential problem with an employee handbook or manual: in some cases, they could be construed as a contract, thus meaning that you can no longer fire an employee “just because,” but rather, you won’t be able to fire the employee unless he or she is in violation of the manual.

The good news for employers is that most courts favor at-will employment, and are hesitant to say it has been waived, just because an employee manual was agreed to. So you are generally safe having employees sign these agreements—if they are worded correctly.

Use the Correct Language

It’s probably obvious that an employee manual should specifically state that it is not a contract, it should say that it does not waive at will employment, and should specify that it creates no specific rights in the employee that doesn’t exist under Florida law anyway.

But beyond that, the wording of the manual may dictate whether it is construed as a contract or not.

For example, general language that an employee is required to be at work at 9am, answer phone calls, and tell the boss when the employee needs to leave early, are fine—they don’t create a contract.

But language in an employee manual that says, for example, “here are the things that will get you fired,” with a list of specific wrongs, could be construed to create a contract. Language that says “you will be paid as long as you don’t do these things,” could be construed as so specific that the manual is, in fact, a contract.

Language that conditions firing on things happening—like saying the employee will get X number of warnings, or saying that the employee will get 30 days notice, etc., can create tangible requirements or pre-requisites on firing that wouldn’t otherwise exist.

Call the West Palm Beach business litigation attorneys at Pike & Lustig today for help with your business’ legal or employment law needs.




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