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Can an employee handbook help my wrongful discharge case?

Like several other states, the courts in California are willing to enforce the terms of an employee handbook, as long as the employer distributes the handbook to its employees and as long as the obligations and promises it contains are sufficiently specific to enforce. California courts do so under the theory that an employer would not issue a handbook if it did not expect to follow the policies in it, and employees would, on the other hand, consult the handbook in order to know what the employer expected.

However, like many other states, employers in California have the option of expressly disclaiming the idea that an employee handbook is actually a type of contract or legal promise. All the employer needs to do is clearly and specifically state as much in the handbook with language like "this handbook is not a contract."

Other employers in Los Angeles may take the additional step of having an employee sign a statement that the employee recognizes he or she is employed at will, meaning that, handbook or no handbook, an employer can fire the employee for any reason or no reason at all, as long as the reason is not illegal.

A copy of the handbook can be an important piece in proving a case of wrongful termination, and an employee who feels he or she has been fired unjustly should try to obtain a copy of the handbook if possible.

Although an employer who took the time to review its handbook and run it by their legal counsel will probably have included disclaimer language, the handbook can still be helpful for showing that an employee is the victim of discrimination. For instance, if the employee got fired for a handbook provision that the employer selectively enforced, it could be evidence of discrimination.

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Law Offices of Allan A. Sigel, P.C.

Law Offices of Allan A. Sigel, P.C.
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