Employee Handbooks: Content & Pitfalls Synopsis

By Kathleen Pohlid Founder & Managing Member, Pohlid, PLLC | February 17, 2013

The New Year is a good time to review employment policies and procedures. At the top of the list: a review of your employee handbook.

Think your old handbook has been working well for years and that a review is not necessary?

Your handbook may contain provisions that are out dated, or promises to employees that you are not fulfilling. Maybe there are provisions which are illegal. Important workplace policies may have been omitted from the handbook. You may have no documentation that notice of those policies was given to employees. Or, despite there being several employees on your staff, you do not have an employee handbook. Without an employee handbook, you may also lack the means to document the existence of your workplace rules or establish that they have been effectively communicated to employees.

How costly can a mistake in a handbook be for an employer? In 2011, a Pennsylvania court of appeals affirmed a verdict of over $187 million against a major retail store on a breach of employment contract claim stemming from promises made in its employee handbook. The store promised one fifteen-minute paid break to hourly at-will employee associates who work between three and six hours a day, and two fifteen-minute paid breaks for those working over six hours. The store also touted, “Take a break and get paid for it!” Two problems: the store was not paying employees for those breaks; and employees read the handbook and were aware that they were not being paid. A class action lawsuit followed.

The employment was “at-will” and the store had diligently inserted a disclaimer in its handbook stating: “The policies and benefits presented in this handbook are for your information only and do not constitute terms or conditions of employment… This handbook is not a contract.” Although it is important for an employee handbook to confirm with employees that the employment is “at-will” and to set forth a disclaimer, employers should be aware that these steps may not always preclude liability on a breach of employment contract claim.

In the case of this store, the Pennsylvania court of appeals upheld the trial court finding that the disclaimer confirmed that the employment was at-will, but it did not relieve the employer from its unilateral promise to pay employees for breaks. This case serves as an important reminder that employers must review their handbooks and all other communications to employees to ensure that they are not making promises that they do not intend to keep.

Coming up in January 2018...

Mobile Technology: Relentless Innovation

Technology has become a crucial component in attracting and retaining hotel guests, and the need to enhance a guest’s technology experience is driving a relentless pace of innovation. To meet and exceed guest expectations, 54% of hotels will spend more on technology in 2018, and mobile solutions in particular will top the list of capital investments. Many hotels are integrating mobile booking, mobile keys, mobile payments and mobile check-in into their operations. Other hotels are emphasizing the in-room experience, boosting bandwidth and upgrading flat screen TVs to more easily interface with guest mobile devices. And though not yet mainstream, there are many exciting technology developments on the near horizon. The Internet of Things (loT) is taking form in some places, and can be found in guest room control systems, voice activation systems, and in wearable sensors that can be used for access and payment options. Virtual reality headsets are available at some hotels so guests can enjoy virtual trips to exotic locations or if off-property, preview conference facilities and guest rooms. How long will it be before a hotel employs a fleet of robots for room service, or utilizes a hologram as a concierge, or installs gesture-controlled walls that feature interactive digital displays? Some hotels are already using augmented reality for translation services, or interactive wall maps, or even virtual décor. This pace of innovation is challenging property owners and brands to stay on top of the latest technology trends while still addressing current projects. The January Hotel Business Review will explore what some hotels are doing to maximize their opportunities in the mobile technology space.