In 1987 the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that Kathy Small’s handbook with Springs Industries was an enforceable contract. This was big news for employees with handbooks that contained promises. If, for example, a handbook required two written warnings before termination and the employee had received only one write up, she could sue in court to get her job back.
The Court in the Small case gave employers a way out: disclaimers. If a company wrote in the handbook that it was not a contract, the employee would lose the case.
But in 2002 Evelyn Conner, a police dispatcher, challenged a handbook that had both a disclaimer AND promises. The state Supreme Court said a jury should decide whether or not Evelyn could still enforce the protections because the handbook was confusing. This was another victory for employees.
Two years later in 2004, the business community had enough of court decisions protecting the right of employees to enforce handbooks and went to the legislature for help. The South Carolina General Assembly promptly passed a handbook disclaimer law that made it even harder for employees to enforce promises made to them in handbooks. The current law allows employers who provide handbooks to their employees to avoid court if they simply write a disclaimer in capital letters on the book’s first page, underline it and have the employees sign the handbook.
Now, in most cases, the answer to the question “is your handbook useless?” is “yes”. Check your handbook to see if it has a disclaimer like the one described above. If it does, any promises in the handbook cannot be enforced in court.