Every manager knows the importance of disciplinary documentation. Ideally, the information is accurate and descriptive, with all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed. But what happens if an employee refuses to sign his disciplinary memo? Your carefully prepared documentation still stands, regardless. The question is how to deal with the employee.
√ Make sure the employee understands what signing the document means. Explain that his signature simply acknowledges that he received and reviewed the disciplinary document; it does not indicate an admission of guilt or his agreement with the contents. Consider adding this explanation above the employee signature line on disciplinary forms.
√ Make sure the employee understands what not signing the document means. Explain that his refusal to sign does not in any way change your ability to enforce the disciplinary measure and his responsibility to abide by it.
In general, an employer has the right to terminate an employee for refusing to sign disciplinary documentation.
√ Add a “refused to sign” line. A simple sentence declaring the employee refused to sign the memo will offer your organization extra protection. Make sure you and another manager (or HR) initial it.
Tip: Get the employee’s oral agreement. He should be able to answer “yes” regarding whether the document has been discussed with him and whether he understands it. If there is any confusion (not disagreement), then review the applicable parts until he agrees that he understands. If the employee still refuses to sign, you can indicate the employee’s oral acknowledgment of receipt and understanding, and his refusal to sign.
√ Give a copy to the employee. He may still later try to claim that he never received the document, but at least he won’t have a valid point.
√ Allow the employee to include a rebuttal, if he asks. The rebuttal gives the employee a chance to be heard; employees who feel they have no voice in the workplace are more likely to want to be heard in court. And it serves as proof that the employee reviewed the document. Just be sure to reiterate that the employee’s disagreement doesn’t change the content or consequence of the warning.
Warning: Don’t allow the employee to mark up the original document. By doing so, you’d make it easy for him to claim in court that you were in full agreement with all the changes he had made. Have him write his rebuttal on a separate sheet.
If the rebuttal reveals a legitimate issue, investigate the matter and re-evaluate the disciplinary decision if necessary.
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