Can I Refuse To Sign Documents?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about signing:

Do I have to sign every document and/or written communication that is presented to me? I want to refuse sometimes.

Signed, Unsigned For Now

Dear Unsigned For Now:

Whether or not you can refuse to sign a document or communication depends upon the rules and policies of your organization and the nature of the document. In almost all organizations, your signature on disciplinary or corrective documents only provides a record that you did, in fact, receive the information. You are not required to sign, and if you do not a supervisor writes, “Refused to sign” and witnesses that you did receive it.The practice of having employees sign was started to protect employees from having supervisors put negative information in personnel folders, but not telling the employees about it. It is often, incorrectly, viewed by employees as indicating agreement with the correction or reprimand, and they don’t want to sign.Most organizations will allow employees to write a brief note next to their signature, such as, “Received, but do not agree.”

This doesn’t change anything, but sometimes makes the employee feel better! Absolutely refusing to sign also doesn’t change anything, but seems to make employees feel they have made a statement of sorts. My experience has been that refusing to sign is usually seen by management as further indication that the corrective action was appropriate. And, since the signature is only a receipt indicator, there is really no reason not to sign. You received it and you sign to show you did. To refuse looks stubborn and as though you refuse to change the issue about which you have been counseled. If you are talking about signing to show you received training or that you have been given an item or equipment, you are likely required to sign in those cases, just as you may be required to sign in and out at work, or to sign that you have completed a project.It is one of the great ironies that most employees will sign a mortgage, car rental, video rental or credit card receipt without reading the material–and those DO indicate agreement, and obligates them to do something. But they won’t sign to indicate receipt of a one page memo saying they have been reminded to correct a behavior or improve performance. That shows you how much our ego and emotions are involved in our work–as they should be, but not to excess.If you feel a disciplinary counseling or correction was unjustified, ask to be allowed to write an appeal to the next level, or the next. That will achieve more than only refusing to sign a document. I hope this was helpful. Best wishes!

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.