Tuesday, January 22, 2008

New breed of employee handbook creates legal problems

The blogosphere has been hopping the past several days over the new employee handbook drafted by newspaper conglomerate the Tribune Company. Rather than recapping the issues, I'll merely direct everyone to a very good summary at the Connecticut Employment Law Blog.

To sum up, though, the Tribune's new handbook (which comes in at a very concise 11 pages) is very informally written, probably in an attempt for it to be better understood. When your harassment policy, however, tells employees:

Working at Tribune means accepting that sometimes you might hear a word that you, personally, might not use. You might experience an attitude that you don't share. You might hear a joke that you might not consider funny.... This should be understood, should not be a surprise and is not considered harassment. Harassment means being told that a raise, promotion or other benefit is dependent on you going on a date with your boss or some other similar activity.

you might have a problem. Limiting the definition of sexual harassment to quid pro quo is a serious misstatement of the law that a review by a lawyer would have caught and corrected. Jocularity and informality are one thing, if that is the image you want to present. Discouraging employees from reporting a hostile environment by incorrect statements of the law is entirely different. There is nothing wrong with savings costs by drafting your own employee handbook. Not having a lawyer review it before it is disseminated, however, will end up costing a company a whole lot more in litigation costs then if it just had a lawyer draft it in the first place.