What happens when an employee refuses to sign a discipline notice?

by Michael Haberman on May 31, 2017 · 2 comments


It is not necessary to have an employee sign a disciplinary notice.

I get asked this question more than I would like. I was reminded of this when I read a post by attorney Jeffrey Stewart of Norris McLaughlin & Marcus PA. He was providing advice to clients that is very similar to what I have told clients and students in the past. Our advice is “Don’t sweat it.” This not the end of the world.

One small phrase

Of course it would be nice to get an employee to sign a piece of paper that they had received and understood the discipline you had just spent time giving them, but often they refuse to sign the document. Does that nullify the discipline session? No, it does not. All you have to do is write on the document “Employee refused to sign” and initial and date the document. Of course, if another supervisor was involved in the meeting then you could have them initial that statement as well as a witness.

If no other supervisor or manager is present, you could always call one into the room and explain to them the situation, verify in front of them that the employee refused to sign and then have them initial the phrase.

Sometimes you can get the employee to sign by explaining to them that a signature is not an acknowledgement that they agree with the statement, but that does not always work. I did have a situation once where I wrote that the employee had refused to sign and then I asked them to initial that statement, they did. So I got what I wanted.

Just remember that, although their signature is nice, it is not necessary. What you don’t want to do is just file the document without any acknowledgement of the refusal. That does not provide any proof that you ever had a discussion with the employee and that can make things difficult in future encounters.


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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Christy Mullens-Shaw May 31, 2017 at 9:14 am

I would add that the employer is required to provide a rebuttal area in an evaluative and disciplinary action. Make no mistake, a signature on ANY document is a form of contract with potential legal implications. It is misleading to tell an employer “not to sweat it.” Likewise, an employee has every right not to sign something they dispute and/or are not in agreement with. Assume nothing on either side because an attorney is trained to take EVERY word, or lack thereof, and rip it apart to twist perception and “truth.”

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Michael Haberman May 31, 2017 at 11:47 am

Christy, I am not sure I agree with your statement about a rebuttal area. I know of no federal requirement, nor is there one in Georgia. Is it a good idea or a good HR practice? Sure, but in many jurisdictions I don’t believe it is a requirement.

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