My Boss Uses My Signature

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about signatures:

During a recent vacation from my position as the HR Manager, my direct supervisor used my signature stamp for two events that cause me some concern: the first event was to sign off on letters to employees who did not receive an interview (a process in which I had no involvement). The second was on a termination letter to an employee. I had no knowledge of the reason for his discharge until after I returned from my vacation. What are the issues I need to be concerned about as a result of this? When I expressed my concern about his decision to do this I was told I was not a team player and it is my job to provide these letters whether I’m at work or not.

Signed, Stamped Not Team Player

Dear Stamped Not Team Player:

Obviously, as is quite common, not every protocol expected as part of one’s job is detailed in a job description or understood even after years on the job. You and your supervisor had not talked through what could bear your signature stamp in your absence. Now that you have encountered use of your name that you judge is problematic, you sought to clarify that and were criticized as not being a team player.

Sooooo you have two problems: first is the concern you have about the letters that are sealed with your stamp, and second, the uneasiness you feel for being charged as are not a team player because of your inquiry about use of your stamp.

Your Stamp: Our site advises in varied aspects of organizational communication and that can relate to, but we definitely do not give legal or Human Relation advice. That said, I think it is unlikely that you have anything about which to worry. Your superior might not have your knowledge of all the considerations and potential risks to your company related to giving and/or not giving interviews to prospective candidates and also she/he might not know as you do those matters that must be considered that are associated with termination of an employee. You, of course, should have that kind of knowledge. If you are not confident about the substance related to those personnel actions, most likely you can consult HR texts and HR associates in other companies.

Your accusation of not being a Team Player: Fences need mending probably as much as does clarification of what you want and don’t want done in name during your absence. This is not the time to take offense at being told you are not a team player. Rather, see it as an opportunity to assure your superior that you were only thinking of the risks to your company that comes with such personnel decisions and that you don’t want to be charged with suits that could occur.

Conflict presents an opportunity to educate and hammer out policy; policy that conforms to the law and policy about use of one’s name. I think you would wise to have a time-out talk with your superior about these matters. You might first want to prepare a written statement explaining why you want to schedule a meeting. In your written request and/or face-to-face that statement might begin with something like this, “Sam, or Samantha, (whatever is the name of your supervisor) I am disappointed that you accused me of not being a team player. The very fact that I came to you about how my signature stamp is used demonstrates that I take my job seriously and that I don’t want to put our organization at risk in any way. I think I should be praised for that, rather that being accused of not being a team player.”

Such a forthright statement should evolve into a conversation that affirms your commitment to doing quality work and to detailing what is kind of policy and procedures are to be followed regarding one’s signature, both when on and off duty. Such a confrontation with your superior also is an opportunity for making visible unwritten and taken for granted rules about when and how you and your superior communicate. We each have some vague notion of what is appropriate and effective and what is not. I suggest that that vagueness can cause the kind of discomfort you felt because of how you name was used, and your superior felt discomfort because he sensed your discomfort and defensively blamed for not being a team player. I’m sure you know that the frustration you now feel can be played and replayed obsessively in your head or might be vented confidently with coworkers. Both would be mistakes.

Do these thoughts make sense enough that you will not just bite your tongue and instead will put your faith in talk about talk with your supervisor? If they do, I predict your boss-bossed communication will be two way and more productive. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. Isn’t that what you really want for your workplace?

William Gorden