Do I Have To Sign A Written Reprimand?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about signing a warning:

I called a co-worker an inappropriate word in front of witnesses. I was angry at how this person was treating me. I have since made a public apology to this person. The Manager told me that I will be written up for this. Since we are a branch office, there is no HR person on site. An HR representative will be doing a routine visit next week and I was told I have a scheduled meeting with this person on Wednesday. All I know is that I will get a written warning. Can they do anything to me if I refuse to sign it? What are my rights with a written reprimand?

Signed, Worried

Dear Worried:

Usually if your organization doesn’t have a rule about what is signed, you do not HAVE to sign a disciplinary action. But there are no good reasons to not sign, and plenty of reasons to sign. However, you may wish to write a statement and ask to have that included in your personnel folder, so there is a record of any mitigating circumstances that led to this situation.First let me discuss the issue of signing: All you do by signing is verify that you did receive the warning or reprimand. You are not admitting guilt (although you say you have alrady admitted that you said something inappropriate.) Your signature just aknowledges receipt. That is done to protect employees from having someone issue a disciplinary action but not telling them about it. If you don’t sign, the person administering it will simply write that you refused, then tell everyone in the big office that you wouldn’t sign that you received the warning. That’s not a reputation you want.Now, think about what you want to have happen in all of this. I would imagine you want this to go away as quickly as possible. The best way to do that is to move on. You admit you said something inappropriate.

You also apologized, which is a positive thing. Now, the organization has to respond to the situation, but it sounds as though the response is rather mild. You aren’t being fined money or loss of time, you are being told by an HR person that it was the wrong thing to do and you should not do it again.

Once that’s over, all you have to ensure is that you don’t do it again! My experience has been that if an employee makes a mistake, then works to do better in the future, employers are very impressed with that effort. But if you seem resentful or angry, the feeling may be that you haven’t learned from this mistake.If you have a union they may have advice for you about all of this, as it pertains to union contracts. But, there are no legal rights or requirements regarding a disciplinary action of this nature.Now, let me mention something about the issue that developed: I’m sorry the situation arose in the first place. It’s always better to document a complaint if someone is mistreating you, and give the complaint and list of witnesses to a supervisor or manager, rather than try to take on the person yourself. Emotions get in the way and the next thing you know you’re calling the person a name.

That doesn’t make you feel better and ends up making you have to apologize to someone you dislike!However, I can see this getting much better for you if you approach it from the perspective of “I made a mistake. I’m sorry for it. I can understand the need to issue me a reprimand, and I can promise this won’t happen again. Next time, I’ll handle it differently. NOW, I’m going to get on with my work and my life and put this behind me.”

That kind of reaction not only shows your maturity and willingness to work with everyone, but puts you in a very good position. No one expects every employee to be perfect, so this mistake isn’t the worst thing in the world. What is really valued is an employee who wants to do well within the organization, and who can learn to deal with conflict and frustrations, as well as being able to handle tough situations. When you meet with the HR representative, say how sorry you are that this happened, but say that you think there are some circumstances that you want others to know. Then you can give her or him your written statement and ask that it be placed in your file.After you have met with HR, consider talking to your supervisor and let him or her know that you’re anxious to put this behind you and that in the future you will ask for assistance if something is developing that seems to be leading to problems. Best wishes as you work through this and move on to better times.

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.