Are Employment Handbooks Binding On Employers?

Employee handbooks typically outline an employer’s expectations, as well as the consequences an employee may expect if they fail to meet the employer’s expectations. However, employee handbooks may also outline other important information, including:

  • an employer’s overtime policy;
  • the benefits offered by the employer;
  • various types of leave available to employees;
  • guidelines for employee performance reviews;
  • the expected process for an employee to resign from their position; and
  • policies for promotion, termination, and transfers.

Employees should be able to rely on the language in the handbook and be confident that, if they avoid the prohibited conduct listed in the handbook, they will not be unfairly disciplined or terminated. Similarly, an employee should be able to rely on the listed benefits and procedures outlined in an employee handbook throughout the course of their employment. However, that is not always the case.

Routinely, Texas employers terminate employees for conduct not listed as prohibited or discouraged in an employee handbook. Similarly, it is not uncommon for an employer to renege on the benefits mentioned in an employee handbook or otherwise not follow the procedures outlined in an employee handbook. When this occurs, an employee may be able to pursue an employment claim against their employer.

Employee Handbooks Still Play a Role in “At Will” Employment Positions

Some employment agreements provide that either party can terminate employment at any time, for any reason. This is considered an “at will” employment agreement. While courts will generally enforce a Texas at-will employment agreement, if an employee handbook contains any policies or procedures regarding termination, an at-will employer must follow these provisions.

Limiting Language in Texas Employee Handbooks

As noted above, an employee handbook is generally considered a legally binding document that creates enforceable rights. However, some employers insert certain language into an employee handbook in hopes of not being legally bound by the terms in the handbook; for example, if an employee handbook states that it contains only “guidelines” and that the employer “reserves the right” to change or terminate any employment policies.

The Inalienable Rights of Texas Employees

Of course, some rights are enjoyed by Texas employees, regardless of whether they are mentioned in an employment contract. If an employee handbook outlines a term of employment that is contrary to state or federal law, the law will trump the employee handbook. For example, if a qualifying employer’s handbook explains that no employee will be provided the opportunity to take medical leave, that provision may violate the FMLA and would not be enforceable.

Are You Involved in an Employment Dispute?

If you have questions or issues regarding your employer’s handbook, contact our team of Texas employment attorneys. We represent Texas employees in all types of employment-related matters, including wage-and-hour disputes, wrongful termination claims, and claims of discrimination. To learn more, call 214-528-6500 to schedule a consultation.

More Blog Posts:

What Is First Amendment Retaliation and How Can an Employee Bring a Claim of Retaliation?, Dallas Employment Lawyer Blog, January 10, 2019.

Are All Texas Employment Contracts Enforceable?, Dallas Employment Lawyer Blog, January 17, 2019.

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