Can my employer violate the employment handbook under Texas employment law?

Generally yes, the employer is not bound to follow its handbook. An employment handbook can be an employment contract that requires the employer to follow the procedures and rules. In almost every handbook there is a disclaimer that it does not create an employment contract. The employer is free to change the terms at its own discretion. Texas courts recognize the disclaimer as destroying any hope that you can rely upon your employer to follow its own rules.

In addition to the disclaimer, employers often write the handbook in a way that allows the employer to not follow its processes. For example, the progressive disciplinary policy usually has some language that the employer can skip steps if it wants. If your employer’s handbook lacks the disclaimer then you may be able to prevail on the argument that it has created an employment contract but it is a very hard argument to win. If you believe your employer violated the handbook then it may be time to talk to an employment lawyer near you to review the handbook and your situation. There may be a claim based upon the language of the handbook. At very least an employment lawyer can talk to you about ways to deal with the situation that may resolve the situation.

Employment handbook rules in Texas

In some situations the handbook may disclaim that it forms an employment contract; but in the disciplinary procedures discusses termination limited to just cause or good cause. In these cases the employee may have a reasonable opportunity to assert that the language changed the at-will employment to one requiring good cause or just cause for termination even if an employment contract does not exist. Most handbooks will not contain these terms and will specifically disclaim setting that standard for termination.

If you are a union employee, the handbook may be part of your collective bargaining agreement. The employer would then have to honor the terms of the handbook just as any other term within the CBA. Employers can usually only terminate union employees for just cause because it is the standard in the CBA.

In rare circumstances an employer will incorporate the summary plan description for certain benefits in the employment handbook. The employer is not free to disregard the benefit plan rules even though some terms reside in the handbook. In those cases, the employer may not violate that part of the handbook but it is really because it cannot violate the plan rules.

Your employer cannot violate the handbook when the violation flows from discrimination on the basis of a protected trait. For example, the employer has a progressive disciplinary procedure but the handbook says the employer may skip steps. The procedure is followed very closely for female employees but male employees are terminated after the first warning. In that case the employer’s failure to follow the rules is evidence of discrimination. So really the employer’s violation of the handbook is not itself the issue but the underlying discrimination.

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