Witkowski v. Thomas J. Lipton was an employment case in New Jersey that pertained to whether or not an employee handbook is binding enough to constitute an employee contract. These are the types of cases that keep New Jersey employment lawyer, Tayeb Hyderally interested in litigating employment law cases. As cases are tried and judgments are made employment law is shaped and formed over time. The case involving Lipton and Witkowski is one such case.
Witkowski was first hired by the Lipton Company in 1980 as a general maintenance mechanic. Upon his termination he argued that the employee handbook constituted a contractual agreement of his employment. He further felt that the employer had not followed the proper termination procedures as were set forth in the manual. However, Lipton asserted that employees were hired “at-will” and could be terminated at any time with or without cause.
When Witkowski filed his complaint against Lipton he alleged that he had been wrongfully discharged and this was a breach of contract based on the employment handbook that he was given at the time of employment. The trial court found that the manual did not include a comprehensive termination policy. However, it did have a brief list of actions that would demand immediate release.
One of the items on the list of dismissible actions was if an employee was found to have in their possession either an item that was stolen, or an item for which they did not have supervisory permission. During a standard inspection, Witkowski’s locker was found to contain a can of CRC Industrial lubrication oil that was commonly used at the Lipton plant. Even though Witkowski denied that he had stolen the oil and clearly stated that he had obtained the permission of his immediate supervisor, Lipton immediately terminated him.
The employment manual provided by Lipton upon initial employment has several sections. Under Section II the heading, “Warning Notices” can be found. This notice states that there are certain actions for which an employee may receive a warning. Then it lists some serious infractions that are grounds for immediate dismissal. Among the 7 examples that are serious infractions is number 7 which states, “Stealing or unauthorized possession of company property.” This statement was grounds enough for Witkowski to be released from his position immediately. The courts stated that the Lipton manual did indeed create a type of implied employment contract and this gave the company the right to govern termination of employees.