When working with clients, I’m frequently asked to review and rewrite contract forms, employee handbooks, or other human resource documents that the company put together themselves, presumably in an effort to save money, using everyone’s free lawyer, Google. Hopefully, this review is being done as part of a routine review and not as the result of a pending lawsuit but, in either event, rarely do Google’s “free” services actually save anyone money.
I understand the temptation – the business is usually new, revenues are just starting to come in and there’s this tremendous bounty of what looks like free material that older, established companies have already used. While the internet can be a wonderful source of information about other companies’ policies, by simply cutting and pasting language from other sources, you may be exposing yourself to liability in a number of ways. For example, if you have fewer than fifty employees, courts have held that you can nonetheless be bound to comply with the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) if you include an FMLA policy in your handbook and therefore cannot later terminate an employee who is seeking to take FMLA-protected leave. Pulling a progressive discipline or termination for cause policy from a unionized employer’s handbook could impact your ability to discipline and terminate employees for misconduct. Even something as mundane as including a mandatory direct deposit provision in an agreement can expose a company to liability in a state like Maryland that makes such a requirement impermissible. Big picture: the employment laws covering businesses vary from state to state, are constantly changing and coverage frequently depends on the size of a company’s workforce. The document you’re pulling language from is not going to tell you if the law it’s relying on to formulate a specific policy applies to your business or is still good law – an employment lawyer will.
Besides, using the internet to put together company documents neither saves time nor money. An experienced employment attorney will have developed their own forms and policies that they can customize for your business. As a result, creating a document from scratch for a startup company, with input from the company on how they want to customize it, frequently takes less time than editing and rewriting a document that was pieced together from sources on the internet. It also saves you the headache of going back to all of your existing employees and providing them with new documents.
If you have questions about your employment agreements, handbooks, or other human resources documents, particularly if you’re a former client of Google, Esq., please contact Gregory Currey.