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Can your employer force you to sign documents which state that you can not take any legal action against them?

New York, NY |

Other employees have sued the company for discrimination, fought them on denying unemployment, and sued for being wrongfully accused of harrassment and being fired. Now all employees are being told it is manditory to sign electronically the new updates to the associate handbook. We do not have a union. Our HR dept can not be trusted. And we all are under employment at will. We have no rights. I feel that by not signing the document, I will be terminated unjustly.

Attorney Answers 4


  1. It is unclear whether your employer is requiring a signature attesting to your receipt of the handbook or a signature as a purported waiver of any legal rights. There is nothing wrong with your employer requiring you to sign that you have received a copy of the handbook. That will not make the handbook a contract, nor will it prevent the employer from making any changes or departures from the handbook provisions as it sees fit over time and circumstances.

    It is also not improper for your employer to require you to sign that you have been advised of any specific matter, whether in writing, in one-on-one personal discussion, or in a large group presentation. That, too, does not involve interpretation or forfeiture of legal rights. Documenting disclosures and completed communications is a normal part of business and not usually a ground for conspiracy theories.

    It is not proper for the employer to require you to sign a blanket waiver, or any waiver, of any employment law rights. And, if any employees have signed such a "waiver", it is highly unlikely that the NY or federal courts and administrative agencies will give such waiver any force or effect.

    I question your understanding of what is going on here because you are an at will employee. That means that your employer can fire you at anytime on almost any set of facts -- or even without any factual basis. So, the employer really does not need to engage in the kind of shenanigans that you suspect in order to do whatever it wants. Perhaps there is too much suspicion and distrust here to rely on your assessment of the circumstances? You may want to talk with a local employment attorney for an objective and realistic assessment of the situation at your employment.

    My responses to questions on Avvo are never intended as legal advice and must not be relied upon as legal advice. I give legal advice only in the course of an attorney-client relationship. Exchange of information through Avvo's Questions forum does not establish an attorney-client relationship with me. That relationship is established only by individual consultation and execution of a written agreement for legal services.


  2. I agree with my colleague, but I would like to point out that you do have rights even if you are an employee at will and have no union. For example, you have the right to engage in "concerted protected activiries" related to "wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment". This is a right found in the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), a federal law. For it to apply you must act "in concert" with at least another employee. For example, lets say that they want to reduce your break time and you complain, they can fire you for that, you are an employee at will. But lets say that you and your co-worker John Doe complain together about the break reduction, and they fire you or both of you. THAT would be illegal under the NLRA because when you complained with John Doe it was a "concerted" complaint ( 2 or more employees) and it dealt with terms and conditions of employment. In a nutshell: If you are an at will employee and you plan to complain about something ( it has to be about hours wages, or other terms and conditions of employment) , always do it in concert with at least another employee.

    Legal disclaimer: This response is meant to be information only and should not be considered to be legal advice. This information is not meant and should not be construed to be the formation of an attorney client relationship. Employment laws may vary by state and you should contact an attorney in your state to see if a state law may be applicable to your situation.


  3. From your question it appears that you are simply being required to acknowledge receipt of an updated handbook. There is nothing inappropriate about that, particularly assuming you are an at-will employee that can be terminated at any time for any non-discriminatory reason. However, you should contact an attorney to discuss any specific concerns you may have. Good luck.

    DISCLAIMER: This response is made available for general educational purposes only, and not to provide legal advice upon which you should rely. Mr. Kam does not give legal advice without a full and complete understanding of the facts and circumstances of a given situation -- of which the question and answer format provided for herein does not qualify. By viewing this response you understand and agree that: (i) no attorney-client relationship has been formed between you and Mr. Kam or his law firm; (ii) you will not rely on any statements or opinions provided in this response; and (iii) this response shall not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction after a thorough consultation.


  4. An employer can REQUEST that you sign a document, but you have the right not to sign it, and then they have the right to terminate you. HOWEVER, I doubt that a New York Court will enforce an agreement in which an employee waives rights that he/she has under state or federal employment law. With that said, it is common in certain industries that employees waive the right to sue their employer for certain types of actions, and instead arbitrate such disputes.

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