Steps To Take When An Employee Refuses to Sign A Disciplinary Notice

February 12, 2018

You've done the hard part: documented an employee's poor performance or misconduct, discussed it with the employee and their manager, and written up the proceedings. One last step and you can all move forward; the employee just needs to sign your report on the disciplinary action. But, wait! He's protesting the discipline and is refusing to sign. Now what?

Employees often refuse to sign disciplinary actions, but they are more likely to sign if the notices are presented and worded in the right way. You want their signature as proof that they received the discipline for their behavior.

You can also ask the worker to write out his rebuttal, which would give him the chance to air his grievances and raise anyissues that merit HR's attention.

If the employee still opts not to sign, an HR professional and witness can document receipt with their own signatures. They may later be called on to testify that the discipline had been presented to the worker.

Be Upfront

Explain at the very beginning of the disciplinary meeting what is going to happen. You might say something like, "We're going to discuss with you the issues that led to this discipline. At the end of this meeting, we'll show you a form on which we've documented the reasons for this meeting and disciplineand will allow you time to review it. We'll also ask that you sign the form, simply to show that you've received it and read it. Do you have any questions before we begin?"

Use Careful Wording

Employees are more likely to sign disciplinary notices that clarify right above the signature line that theymay disagree with the warning and, by signing,theyareacknowledging onlythat they received andreviewed the documents.

Consider including a section that permits an employee to add his or her own comments. That also would serve as notice that the worker received the warning.

Document Receipt When Employee Doesn't Sign

Despite an employer's best efforts, sometimes an employee will stilldecline to sign. You don't want to look like you've written up the employee and placed the documentation into a personnel file, sight unseen.

The employer may ask the employee to write on the form, "I disagree," and sign and date that. If that fails and you are alone with the employee, you might call in another manager as a witness. With the witness present, have the employee acknowledge that you went over the discipline and that the employee has chosen not to sign. Then you and the witness can sign and date language that would say something like, "Met with employee on [date] and discussed the above. Employee declinedto sign" with full name or initials and date.

Ask for a Written Rebuttal

Rather than insist on a signature, HR professionals should encourage the employee to submit a written rebuttal. Attach the rebuttal to the disciplinary form.

She said that there are at least two benefits of getting a written rebuttal:

  • It proves indirectly that the employee knew about and understood the discipline, which is the whole reason for asking employees to sign as it shows the employer really engaged in progressive discipline.
  • The rebuttal may bring to light some legitimate issues that the company needs to investigate.