To Sign Or Not

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about rules of discipline:

Hello, I work in a union shop and for years when an employee is disciplined, as stewards we have advised him he does NOT have to sign the discipline document. Now the workplace has incoprorated some new discipline policies that the union does not agree with. Management has chosen to implement the policies as well as have one-on-one meetings with each employee asking them to sign that they have acknowledged the policy change. Is it insubordination for the employee to choose not to sign? We feel that employees should not sign and that management should write on the document that the employee refused to sign. Is this insubordination to refuse?

Signed, Union Steward

DearĀ Union Steward:

I think your local union should contact your national offices to find out what your legal requirements and protections are. You might also want to see if there are aspects of the contract that cover this concept, or if there are organizationl rules that cover it and that have been agreed to by the union.

Generally, insubordination refers to refusal to obey a lawful order. Orders come from organizational requirements. If there is no rule that requires all policy changes to be signed personally by employees, and if employees are not ordered to sign, only asked to, it would appear there could be no legal insubordination. However, the nuances of what is legal and what is administratively required, would need an attorney’s advice to be safe.I will admit to you that this whole issue of refusing to sign something seems to me to be rather pointless–but you may see it another way, and I can understand that.

Getting a signature is a way to show that nothing is being done without the employee’s knowledge. It doesn’t indicate agreement, acknowledgement of guilt, mental and emotional acceptance of the policy or discipline, or anything else that should rub someone the wrong way. Asking for a signature, in almost every case, is asking for an acknowledgement of receipt, or verifying that something was explained to the employee or read by the employee.

When the supervisor writes, “Refused to sign”, that usually takes care of the requirement to get acknowledgement of receipt. But what is accomplished by the refusal, except ill will and a contentious environment?Nevertheless, I realize this is a common way for union-management relationships to be handled and probably will continue, whatever my opinion!I do think you should ask for a definitive perspective from a source that is closer to the situation, especially since you certainly don’t want to give half-correct or incorrect information to those you represent.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.