A court case involving Wal-Mart that dates back to 2006 but is still making its way through appeals underscores the importance of the language — and promises — made in employee handbooks.

A Pennsylvania court awarded some 187,000 current and former Wal-Mart and Sam's Club employees in the state $187.6 million in back wages, liquidated damages and attorneys' fees because the Wal-Mart employee handbook explicitly promised paid break periods — 15 minutes for every three hours worked.

Wal-Mart argued, unsuccessfully, that its handbook clearly states that it does not represent any contractual obligations, but in the initial case and then on appeal, two Pennsylvania courts found that the language did indeed represent an obligation for paid break time. The only remaining issue still being settled on appeal is the amount for attorneys' compensation. The $78.5 million in compensatory damages and $62.2 million in liquidated damages have been affirmed (though, of course, further appeals could be made).

Employers, make sure your employee handbooks clearly represent what your policies are. You should review and update your handbooks each year to ensure their accuracy and to cover any new developments in employment law (for instance, including a clear social media policy).

A good place to craft your employee handbook for 2012 is Personnel Concepts' online Handbook Center, which will guide you through the process step by step and then have your finished employee handbook reviewed by a human resource specialist. You end up with a Microsoft Word document that you can further edit or stylize.