Pro Tip: Employee Handbooks Should Avoid Contractual Language and Affirm At-Will Employment

By Lindsay H.S. Hesketh

An October 12, 2018 Order from the District Court of Arizona reminds employers to include the appropriate “at-will” language and disclaimers of contractual intent in their employee handbooks.

A former employee brought 11 claims against the employer, including a claim for wrongful termination in violation of an employment contract under Arizona state law.  All parties moved for summary judgment on this claim. The former employee argued that the employer’s employee manual constituted an employment contract because it contained purported rights of employees. Defendants argued that it was not an employment contract. The manual was silent on whether it was a “contract,” but it did include mandatory language about when the employer could fire employees.  It did not emphasize that the employees were employer at-will. The Court found that the manual created a genuine issue of material fact and denied all parties’ motions for summary judgment on this issue.

Lesson learned: Take steps to avoid this issue by revising handbooks to expressly state employees are at-will and that the handbook is not intended to be a contract.

Corzo v. Maricopa County Community College District, No. 2:15-cv-02552 (D. Ariz. Oct. 12, 2018)