What to do if the employee handbook policy is not being honored?

If the employee handbook policy states that bereavement is granted to an employee in the event of a death of a parent, and Human Resources opts not to honor that because it’s a stepparent, does the employee have any legal grounds to sue?

Asked on May 23, 2012 under Employment Labor Law, Oklahoma


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 8 years ago | Contributor

The employee almost certainly does not have grounds to sue:

1) Regardless of the emotional ties between employee and stepparent, a stepparent is legally not the same thing as a parent; therefore, if the policy was to grant bereavement leaves for "parents," there is no violation in not providing it for stepparents, any more than there would be a violation in not providing leave for the death of a divorced or widowed parent's girlfriend or boyfriend. Simply put, a stepparent is not a parent, regardless of the quality of the relationship.

2) It is very likely that the employee handbook contained some disclaimers, such as "policies are subject to change" or "this handbook does not create an employment contact"--almost all handbooks have these disclaimers. If it had them, or anything like them, then the handbook is not binding or enforceable.


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