What to do When an Employee Refuses to Sign a Warning!

The one consistent question that comes up when we conduct “Documentation” trainings is “What if the person refuses to sign?” Let’s keep it real for a moment. You cannot force anyone to sign anything. Having stated that let’s look at some techniques that might help.

The hardest part is getting managers and supervisors to actually write someone up. Understand something. If you do not and a wrongful termination lawsuit is filed, how are you going to prove the termination was justified? It is as simple as that.

Moving forward you have an employee that is either not performing or has violated company policy. The next step after any verbal warning is to move toward a written warning. You have completed the form, presented it to the employee, and now it is time for that signature but hold on, he is refusing to sign it. Don’t panic. 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. There are other ways to prove he “saw it” although he refused to sign.

Ask the employee if he would like to write a rebuttal to whatever is written on the action form. If he says “yes” then let him write it out. Do not take offense to whatever he writes. Remember, the objective is to prove he read it, not that he agrees with it. If the employee still does not want to do anything then have a witness acknowledge that he saw the disciplinary action form being presented and the employee refused to sign.

Keep in mind, employees are more likely to sign disciplinary notices that clarify right above the signature line that they may disagree with the warning and, by signing, they are acknowledging only that they received and reviewed the documents.

Another well-known technique is to having wording to the effect that they understand, “My signature here indicates ONLY that I have had the opportunity to read this report. It does NOT indicate my agreement with the contents” and then have a signature line below it. If there is a comments box, include another signature line below it.  

If all else fails you can also have them write on the form that they refuse to sign it. Believe it or not in my experience they will do that nine times out of ten! If they do, have them initial it (they often think an initial is different than a signature) and date it.

Never fire an employee for refusing to sign. Consider this. After the meeting send an email recapping the meeting and that you respect their right not to want to sign. When they reply back what do you have, an acknowledgement by them that they saw the document. That’s all you want. Don’t let your emotions take over for the refusal.

Good luck! Any questions call me.




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