In her 24 years as an aggressive advocate and skilled litigator, Arcangela Mazzariello, partner at SeiferFlatow and head of the litigation department, has encountered many unfortunate situations that could have been avoided if her clients had been more aware of their rights. In the “Things That Make Arc Bark” blog series, Arc offers solid advice for all employees.
As an attorney experienced in employment and business law matters, I am a firm believer that your employee handbook is your bible. You should ALWAYS keep a printed copy of your handbook at home. If it is an online handbook, print it out now. If you are terminated, you will not be able to access the handbook later, and there may be relevant information in it that would be pertinent to your case should you want to open a wrongful termination case against your employer.
Why Your Employee Handbook is Important
If the situation arises and you find yourself coming to me for legal help, the first question I will ask is, “Did you follow your company’s procedures?” What would be your answer? Do you know your company’s procedures, like who to inform if you’re going to be late, how to inform payroll about garnished wages, or even who to report to if you are groped by another employee?
All of this information should be in the employee handbook. Not only is your handbook your bible, but it is also your first and only line of defense in North Carolina, where you may be fired “at-will” (for any reason). The following are sections in your employee handbook that you should pay very close attention to.
HR is who you should be able to go to if you have issues with your salary, fellow coworkers, etc. The HR section of your handbook will tell you what they do and when you must report instances of misconduct. If you quit your job because your manager groped you, but you never reported it to HR (or anyone else), it, for all intents and purposes, didn’t happen. You cannot sue.
There should be a section in your handbook about how to report sexual harassment to HR, as well as the company’s definition of inappropriate behavior. However, if you find something uncomfortable, it is inappropriate for you. Personally, I believe you should address inappropriate behavior with the person as soon as it happens. However, if that person is in a position of authority over you and you are afraid of retribution, you should immediately report the incident to HR. Be sure to begin building a paper file on the incident, keeping every email or memo you send to HR.
Not all employee handbooks have sections for Grievances and Appeals. The purpose of a grievance policy in the employee handbook is to give employees a way to bring up troubling or potentially sensitive issues about the work environment with their managers or with HR. This section grants employees the ability to file a grievance against the company for an unfair review, an issue with a coworker or manager, or other problem.
If your employment record or performance is under scrutiny or you want clarification on inconsistent workplace policies, the Appeals section of your handbook should outline the steps you must follow to file an appeal with HR. The right to appeal is huge, so be sure you are aware of your handbook’s policy about it.
Reminder: Print Your Handbook!
Keeping a copy of your handbook at home can mean the difference between a successful wrongful termination case and not being able to sue at all.
If you are bringing an employment law issue to me or another attorney, giving us a copy of your handbook allows us to better understand your case.
Contact us as soon as possible if you believe you have a case for wrongful termination or another employment law matter. Our experienced attorneys can help you understand your options moving forward.