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Written Reprimands

If an employee refuses to sign a letter of reprimand, can that employee be legally terminated? We do not currently have a disciplinary/termination policy in effect. We do have an employee that has been given verbal warnings, this is his first written warning.
Any feedback would be most helpful.
Thank you for your time.
Debbie S.

In most states, the employer can lawfully terminate an employee who refuses to sign a written reprimand, but there is a better way to handle this situation.

There are at least two sides to every issue. Many times employees refuse to sign a reprimand because they feel that their point of view has not been heard. Any good disciplinary discussion will permit the employee to state his or her case, before disciplinary action is taken. (Occasionally the employee has a valid point, and no disciplinary action is taken.)

First, when the employee signs a written reprimand, he is not admitting guilt. The employee is simply acknowledging that a conversation about this issue took place on that date. The written reprimand still counts, whether the employee signs it or not. Sometimes explaining this to the employee is helpful.

Second, employment policies are set by the employer, not the employee. So whether or not the employee agrees with the policy is immaterial. The employer does not need the employees permission to implement a policy, or to reprimand an employee.

To be fair, many employers provide a space on the reprimand for the employee to write a note. The employee can write *I disagree with this reprimand* or even a more specific rebuttal, and sign it. The reprimand still counts.

However, if the employee still refuses to sign the reprimand, there is a simple remedy. Simply call another supervisor into the room. Ask the employee again to sign the written reprimand. The employee will refuse. The second supervisor simply writes *Discussion took place on (date.) Employee refused to sign. Witnessed by * and then signs and dates the reprimand form. The second supervisor is functioning as a witness that a discussion did indeed take place about the issue at hand, on this date. (If the nature of the work means there is not another supervisor available, the manager can ask a trusted employee to act as witness.) Again, the written reprimand still counts, even if the employee refused to sign it.

There are two purposes for a written reprimand. The first is to improve employee performance. The second is to  avoid paying unemployment benefits if the employee must be terminated. As long as the discussion with the employee is documented, the employee does not have to sign the reprimand.

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This entry was posted on Friday, November 13th, 2009 at 7:27 am and is filed under
Human Resources Management, Management / Leadership Development.
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