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What Happens if My Boss Violates a Provision in the Employee Handbook?

While much consideration is given to employees adhering to a company’s handbook, what happens when an employer violates one of its provisions? What are the repercussions?

Florida is an at-will employment state, meaning that an employer can terminate an employee for any non-discriminatory reason. The exception to this rule is when an employee has an employment contract with the employer. Typically, Florida courts do not recognize an employee handbook as creating an employment contract. That is why, the majority of employee handbooks include a disclaimer stating that the handbook is not a contract and the employer is allowed to change the terms at their own discretion. An employee handbook, therefore, is a guideline for an employee to understand the responsibilities and performance expected of them by the employer. A handbook is typically one-way – it gives an employee obligations for their job, but rarely imposes obligations on the employer. While an employee’s violation of a handbook provision may serve as the basis for termination, it is rare for an employer’s failure to follow their own policy rules to serve as the basis for a claim against the employer.

An exception occurs when the employer’s violation of the handbook is a discriminatory act against an employee on the basis of a protected trait. For example, if the progressive disciplinary policy gives the employer discretion to determine discipline, but the employer only opts to do so with a particular gender, there may be grounds for a potential gender discrimination claim. Such legal action, however, is based on the underlying discriminatory behavior, not the employee handbook.

All employers would be well advised to have a labor lawyer review or assist in the creation of an employee handbook regardless of their size.

Employees, on the other hand, should review their employee handbook carefully and understand its terms and conditions. If you believe your employer may have violated the terms of its employee handbook, consult with a lawyer to discuss the situation and determine your rights



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* Cathleen Scott is licensed to practice in Florida only.

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