Written Up at Work? Sign on The Line

Employees who disagree with a manager's write-up won't get anywhere by refusing to sign it.

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Suzanne Lucas

Part 1. A friend (non-HR professional) once said that if an employee won't sign with a full signature on the provided signature line on a written warning/write up/etc., then the refusal is defined as insubordination. True? She maintained that it won't suffice as evidence of having received the written action to simply initial the usual disclaimer sentence, that employees' signature doesn't mean agreement to the content of the written action.

Part 2. Depending on your response to part 1 of this question, I suggested to my friend that a written response/explanation regarding subject matter in written action submitted within a reasonable time frame by the employee would be acceptable in lieu of a signature at the time of the written action. What are your thoughts on this from a HR, employer or supervisor perspective?

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.

Suzanne 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.

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