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Employee Handbooks for Billionaires?

Posted by Frank Steinberg | May 16, 2008 | 0 Comments

In our employment law practice, our business clients often ask about how to structure their employee handbooks.  Our core advice is to tailor the handbook to the way that the client does business, and to follow the KISS rule: Keep It Simple, Stupid.  Employee handbooks that are improperly constructed are legal minefields for employers, especially in New Jersey, so simpler is usually better.

Sometimes a business will bring us a "draft handbook" with the request that we review it quickly, "just to make sure it's OK."  Usually these come from small start-up businesses with a handful of employees, and run to hundreds of pages in length.  A little inquiry usually leads to a predictable conclusion.  In an attempt to save on legal fees, the prospective client has managed to get hold of a copy of an old handbook from a large company.  And if it's good enough for General Electric, or Verizon, or Johnson & Johnson, by golly it's good enough for my little start-up.  Right?

Well, invariably not.  And we have to tell them that we're sorry about the time they've invested in cobbling together their homemade handbook, but it's really not right for them.

Against this background, I ran across this post from the Business Litigation Blog published by Rogers & Tartaro.  It tells of the decision by Sam Zell (a billionaire) to create a "plain language" employee handbook for the LA Times newspaper.  The handbook apparently utilized humor and contained "mistakes." 

The point of the post is that the Sam Zell's of the world, where the employer's resources are almost unlimited, can make a business decision to take some liberties with the content of a handbook, without risking a catastrophic loss.  Smaller businesses generally cannot take the same approach without risking a legal catastrophe. 

Read the post.  It's well-written, sensible, and on the money.

About the Author

Frank Steinberg

Frank is the founder and principal of Steinberg Law, LLC. A Jersey boy born and bred, he focuses on employment litigation and counseling, business litigation,  and aviation law. Following law school and a clerkship in the federal district court Frank spent his early career with large litigation ...

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