Should I Sign?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about refusal to sign a warning:

What are my employee rights at the workplace relating to refuse to sign a warning document? So, in other words, do I have the right to refuse to sign a warning at workplace in Chicago? Which documents do I have the right to refuse to sign and which not? Thanks for assisting me.

Signed, Don’t Want My Name On It

Dear┬áDon’t Want My Name On It:

Apparently you don’t think you deserve a particular warning and therefore, you think signing it indicates you agree with it. Employees also sometimes feel that way about a low annual evaluation. They think signing it agrees with their boss. Our site doesn’t give legal advice; however, I think if you talk to your Human Resources or Personnel departments, you will be told that signing a warning only means you are saying that it was given you, not that you agree you did wrong. To make sure of that, you can add a note along side you signature why you don’t deserve the warning or submit a letter to that effect to be put in your file.

Check with your personnel department to learn if that is acceptable. Some warnings and evaluations have a sentence or two explaining that signing acknowledges you have “read and understand it” and also some have a place for you to add a comment.

Your question implies that all is not right between you and your boss. Right? The more important issue is: what is the trouble, and can and do you want to correct that? If it is a matter of your carelessness, an unintentional mistake, or not being as responsible, will you change? Or if you are rude to coworkers or your boss, why are you? Is it their fault? Work is hard enough without the additional stress of conflict.

Soooo, I can’t know what is the problem, but you do. The key might be an apology and then clarifying what must be corrected. The usual pattern of discipline entails three steps: oral warning, written warning and discipline or firing. A written warning probably is an intermediate step before more severe. Might you see this warning as a time to talk through what of your of the other person’s attitude or behavior led to it?

Sometimes the problem is not you but it is a rule that is unreasonable. Sometimes the problem is a mean coworker or bully boss. But most often the problem is caused by and is best corrected by improved communication; straight problem solving and preventing talk. The kind of talk that hurts rather than helps is “it’s not me” and “that-son-of-a-bitch-is-out-to-get-me” gossip.Does this make any sense to you? Might you see an application in your work situation of my closing lines: Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS? You might also want to scroll down to check out the advice of Susan Lucas to a question similar to your. Ms. Lucas has nine years of human resources experience, most of which has been in a Fortune 500-company setting. She holds a Professional in Human Resources Certificate from the Society for Human Resource Management.

She blogs at Evil HR Lady: I want everyone to repeat after me: I will sign my warning/write up/action plan. I will sign my warning/write up/action plan. I will sign my warning/write up/action plan. Do we need to do that one more time? I don’t understand the fear behind signing these things. There is no universal “write up” form, nor laws regarding them. (Well, no laws that we need to discuss in relation to this answer, at least none that I am aware of. Assume we’re talking about a non-union, at will employee.) Each company can develop their own forms and their own policies. However, I have never heard of a single company that treated an employee signature as anything more than an acknowledgement that the warning had been given. So, yeah, if you were my employee and you wouldn’t sign it, I would classify that as insubordinate. Would that be an offense worthy of firing? No. But, would it be added to a list of your problems–possibly for reference should I eventually fire you? Absolutely. Why would you not want to sign? It doesn’t show that your boss is a jerk who got everything wrong. It shows that you don’t have the maturity level to understand that this is an acknowledgement that you have received the piece of paper. And, if you refuse to sign, your manager will make a note that you received the review on the given date and that you refused to sign it. Will that hold up in a review of the write-up by higher management or HR? Absolutely. Now, I understand that you may not agree with what your manager has written. If that’s the case, you should certainly write up your own version of things–respectfully and professionally. Still, sign the original report. If you ignore the problem, continue to do whatever is on the warning, or fail to fix the things mentioned on the action plan, don’t be surprised when you get called into a meeting with your boss and HR and a copy of said report is shown to you. Then your boss will say, “On April 2, 2009 we talked about your 3-hour lunches. You were told that if you took more than an hour for lunch without prior permission you would be terminated. Today you were gone for 2 hours. Jean will help you pack up your things and collect your badge. Your employment is now terminated.” Saying, “but I never signed that!” is not going to change your manager’s response to: “Oh, oops! That’s right. Go back to your desk.”

Bosses are sometimes irrational. Bosses are also sometimes completely rational, but you can’t see it because you aren’t in their position. The reality is that regardless of whether you agree or disagree, you need to fix the problem. You can go ahead and raise it to the next level, but, be forewarned, unless your boss has previously shown poor judgment, his word will likely be taken over yours. So, sign your report. Write up your objections if you must, but fix the problem. Do what your boss thinks is appropriate. If you can’t seem to do that, go ahead and look for a new job.

William Gorden