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May 13, 201312:23 PMForward HR

with Diane Hamilton and Nilesh Patel

Your employment contracts are not the place for a scavenger hunt

(page 2 of 2)

While the employer could have remembered to use the offer letter to exempt excluded employees from just cause protection, the main problem remains: The employer is using an offer letter to create a contract, but the boundaries of the contract are scattered through two other documents. What would happen if in the future the employer dropped the just cause standard from the employee handbook but failed to remove the reference from the job application? This would create another legal question and possibly another lawsuit to answer whether there is a just cause standard in that workplace. The employer would have to perhaps prove that it intended to drop the just cause standard, rather than the change being the result of perhaps an editing mistake in the handbook.

Even assuming such problems do not arise, an employee handbook is simply not the place to describe the relevant terms of a contract. The handbook is meant to describe existing workplace policies and guidelines, not give shape to them or to contract obligations.

If your organization wants an employment contract, create a document that, among other things, contains all the essential definitions, exclusions, obligations, and terms within it. In addition, make sure the contract does not rely on an external document or multiple external documents for clarification. Lastly, get each covered employee to sign the agreement; this way, at least there should be no question of who is covered by the contract.

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About This Blog

 Diane Hamilton, PCC, SPHR, is the owner and founder of Calibra, a coaching and consulting firm focused on maximizing leadership potential. Nilesh Patel is the principal attorney of the Mahadev Law Group, LLC, which focuses on human resources and employment law issues for organizations. He can be reached at Both bloggers are members of Wisconsin SHRM, which is dedicated to being the state leader in HR management and the premier source for HR expertise and resources. More information can be found at You can follow the WI SHRM blog at



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