Many employers prepare “Employee Handbooks” which outline company policy as well as the rights and obligations of its employees. Can these Employee Handbooks, assuming they contain non-compete language, prevent you from leaving your job and either working for a competitor or starting a competitive business?
The answer is, “maybe…maybe not.” Not a very helpful answer!
Many courts do not elevate Employee Handbooks to the level of an Employment Contract, and for good reason. The Employee Handbook is often given to the employee after starting a new job and therefore should not constitute a valid employment agreement. Further, the employee may have actually signed an Employment Agreement which contradicts some of the terms in the Employee Handbook, which is given to them at a later date.
On the other side of the coin, many employers do not want employees to believe they have a contract based upon the Employee Handbook and place language in the Handbook which says, “the handbook is a summary of information and policies and is not a contract of employment.” In a recent case from Norfolk Virginia (Innovative Systems and Solutions v. Hannah, et. al), the court found that such language prevented a ruling that the Handbook had the same force and validity of an employment agreement.