Often, employers use employee handbooks to provide an employee with information about the employment relationship and to spell out various policies. While some of the policies may inform the employee about the company's mission and notify the employee of basic rights as required by state or federal laws, others may discuss rights of an employee or employer that are not spelled out anywhere else. These may include rights related to sexual harassment, timekeeping, attendance, workplace conduct, company expectations, paid time off, dress codes, and grooming. The employer may use the handbook to communicate information that it may use to defend itself in litigation as well. If you have questions about your employee handbook, the Austin employment lawyers at Wiley Walsh, P.C. may be able to assist you.Information in Employee Handbooks
Texas is an employment at-will state. An employer is allowed to terminate an employment relationship for any reason unless there is an employment contract, collective bargaining agreement, recognized public policy, or statute that prohibits this action. Generally, an employment handbook does not alter the at-will relationship. A carefully drafted employment handbook will include a statement that the employer reserves the right to amend the handbook policy at any time for any reason so that the employer can avoid a claim that an implied promise was made in the handbook.
Policies that may be considered in an employment handbook may relate to discrimination, harassment, dating among employees, holiday and sick days, rest breaks, lunch breaks, family or medical leave, military leave, bereavement, jury duty, voting, benefits, employment at will, performance and discipline, workers' compensation, wage deductions, privacy, and work accidents.
In some states, an employment handbook or policy can be part of the employment contract. Statements in the handbook can be interpreted as promises to the employee. However, in Texas, there is a strong presumption favoring an at-will standard, and generally, courts will not consider statements in an employee handbook a promise or contract.
In some cases, there is no disclaimer in the handbook. For example, if the disciplinary procedures state that termination is restricted to situations in which the employer has good cause or just cause, it may be possible to argue that the handbook changed the usual at-will employment to a relationship requiring good or just cause to terminate. In another example, the handbook might be part of a collective bargaining agreement, in which case the employer must honor the terms of the handbook in the same way that it must honor the collective bargaining agreement. However, an employer that incorporates a summary plan description for specific benefits into the handbook will not be able to disregard those benefit plan rules just because they have been placed in the employment handbook.
Sometimes the handbook can provide evidence of discrimination. For example, if your handbook includes procedures related to discrimination claims, and the employer violates those rules in connection with a Hispanic employee but follows them in connection with white employees, it may be possible to use this as evidence of discrimination.Contact an Austin Attorney to Discuss Your Case
If you believe that your employer has violated a policy in an employee handbook, you should consult our Austin lawyers. It is important to discuss your specific situation with an attorney rather than assuming that you have no recourse. Wiley Walsh, P.C. represents employees in cities such as Austin, Georgetown, Round Rock, Cedar Park, Pflugerville, Leander, Del Valle, Kyle, San Marcos, San Antonio, New Braunfels, and Fredericksburg. Call us at (512) 271-5527 or use our online form to set up an appointment. We also can assist people who need a sexual harassment lawyer or representation in bringing a discrimination claim.