Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A rant about forms

Employment forms are not difficult to find. They are all over the internet. There are form handbooks, form employment applications, form harassment policies, form severance agreements, and myriad other employment and personnel related documents. Many companies even have old forms that an attorney prepared years ago, and dust them off when a situation warrants. Companies rely on these forms to save a few dollars in legal costs. After all, why pay a lawyer several hundred dollars to draft a form for a business when they are available for free? A lawyer must have reviewed it at some point, right? Not necessarily.

Even if a lawyer did review a form at some point, it may not be up to date, it may not have been reviewed for a specific state's particular employment laws, and it certainly was not reviewed for a specific legal situation. Forms are just that, a clean slate that can be adapted to a situation, but not perfect for any or every situation. Each state has specific laws that impact a form's language. Moreover, the law itself is always in flux. New cases come out that give new spins to old laws. New laws are passed that create new legal obligations. How many "form" EEO policies on the internet do you think take into account the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act that was passed in May, or account for Ohio's recent ban on military status discrimination? Do you think a generic employee handbook will take Ohio's smoking ban into consideration?

The point is, it may save a few dollars to use a form without consulting an attorney, but it will cost many dollars more to hire a lawyer to fix a mistake after the fact, especially if the mistake does not come up until a disgruntled employee files a lawsuit.