A recent case clarified that employers should not notify employees of a change in company policies via e-mail. Attorneys on behalf of the employee sued the employer for disability discrimination. The company claimed that the employee wasn’t permitted to sue because they had sent out a lengthy e-mail months earlier to all employees outlining its new mandatory arbitration policy. The e-mail, the company argued, counted as a valid agreement.
The employee claimed he never saw the e-mail, so a lower court let the case go to trial. The court said that, in some cases, policy notifications sent via e-mail could be binding but important policies in which employees surrender their rights should be held to a higher standard.
In my opinion, the holding is important for employers to understand that employees will always state that they did not “get the memo” when it suits their purpose. Technology is making us somewhat lazy because of the ease of sending emails. I agree with the court that important changes in policies deserve a hard copy memo that employees separately sign until the employee handbook can be updated. The problem is how does the employer determine which policy should be a hardcopy memo that deserves a signature. One major example is Arbitration agreements, which the courts have recently held (and consistent with the holding in this case), now need to be a separate signed document and not part of the employee handbook.
Keep it simple. Any memos that involve the rights of employees (wage and hour, disability, discrimination, workers comp or some benefit) should be done by hardcopy with a signature from the employee. I am sure I will be asked about electronic acknowledgements that the employee opened and read the e-mail. In my opinion, nothing beats an actual signature on a document.