Ask The Lawyer By: Daniel A. Gwinn, Esq. -MANUALS ONLINE MAY NOT BE FINE
HEADLINE: KEEPING EMPLOYEE MANUALS ONLINE MAY NOT BE FINE
QUESTION: I was hired last year by a Detroit area company. As part of the on-boarding paperwork, I signed a statement saying that as an employee of the company, I would be governed by the Policies and Procedures Manual. Although I didn’t have a copy of the manual, I figured I would eventually be given a one. But I wasn’t. I later learned that the manual, which is available (with some looking) on the company intranet, forbids all employees from accessing their personal email while at work, with violations resulting in a disciplinary write up and possible suspension. Seriously. I was online during lunch, and I was written up. When I protested, I was told I was subject to all the terms of the Policies and Procedures manual, and if I couldn’t accept that, I would be out of work. Can an employer do this?
ANSWER: Employers (and others) are increasingly making important documents available via a link, or online. From software apps with links to multiple-page legal documents (which most people never read) to basic terms and conditions of employment. But it’s not really the greatest idea.
As one employer recently found, simply referring to a policy in an acknowledgement form new employees must sign may not be enough to make the policy binding.
In Romano v Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, the employer, Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS), had asked the worker to sign an Application Statement saying he agreed to submit any legal claims relating to his employment to arbitration under BCBS procedures.
The worker was terminated for refusing a COVID vaccine. When he tried to sue Blue Cross for a violation of his First Amendment rights, the company said he waived his right to sue — and pointed to the language about arbitration in the Applicant Statement.
Not so fast, said the Court, which ruled the arbitration provision in the statement was not binding where BCBS had not specifically told workers to read the policy, that employment was conditioned on their acceptance of the policy, or even where, exactly, to locate the policy.
Employers who want to save money by making a policy available online can continue to do so, but they may want to take a few extra steps: Inform new or potential hires that their employment is conditioned on their acceptance of the policy; advise these employees specifically where and how to locate the policy; and tell them to view the policy before signing an acknowledgment. These facts and this information should all be contained in the acknowledgment that the employees are asked to sign.
It is in everyone’s best interest for workers to be familiar with their employer’s policies and procedures. How can they be expected to stay on the company’s straight and narrow if they don’t know how to get there?
You may want to discuss your situation with your supervisor, explaining your ignorance of the company’s rule.
And then, you should read the company’s policy. If you can’t agree to its terms, it may be time to look for another job.
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ASK THE LAWYER
By: Daniel A. Gwinn, Esq.
Attorney and Counselor at Law
GWINN LEGAL PLLC
900 Wilshire Drive, Suite 104
Troy, MI 48084
(248) 970-0311 facsimile