By: Dan Cohen – 1/6/15
Over the years, I have reviewed my share of employee personnel files. I see them when responding to agency charges, when defending wrongful discharge suits and when terminated employees request them under Michigan’s Bullard Plawecki Act. More times than not, I run across unsigned write-ups in those personnel files. Is it because the supervisor never presented it to the employee (a problem when litigation occurs), because employees forget to sign (not likely) or is it because some employees naively believe that by not signing the write-up, they can later argue the write-up never occurred? A fourth possibility is that the individual is generally uncooperative and views the employment relationship as “us against them.”
If it were me, I would discipline/fire an employee who refused to sign a write-up. It’s a small but defiant act, an adversarial move by the employee which would absolutely affect the way I view that employee. In fact, such defiance would strain my relationship with the employee and all but destroy my faith and trust in that employee. So, yes; I would oppose their claim for unemployment benefits, and as long as I got a proper release, I would want to make sure references, who contact me about the employee, find out the employee refused to sign a write-up. But, that’s just me. You laugh, but I’m dead serious. Most employers want team players working for them. They want people who are part of the solution and not the problem. When someone refuses to sign a write-up, rather than sign it with an explanation, they are either not smart enough to be on the team or they are putting a stamp on their forehead that “I’m going to be a problem.”
Call me a curmudgeon, but if you continue to employ an employee who refuses to sign a write-up out of principle, recognize that you have an employee who believes ”Team” is spelled with an “I”, is not very smart or simply does not trust management. And, you likely have someone who is far more likely to challenge you in the future. Obviously, none of these things are good for your business.
The courts have not supported employees who refuse to acknowledge discipline. Cases have upheld the denial of unemployment benefits to employees who were discharged for refusing to sign their disciplinary write-up. In such cases, the employee’s refusal to abide by the request is considered misconduct, which disqualifies the employee from receiving unemployment benefits.
Thus, to protect yourself from claims arising from your decision to fire an employee who refuses to sign a write-up, it would be worth using a disciplinary form that states:
“Your signature acknowledges your receipt of the write-up and does not indicate your agreement with it. Refusal to sign a disciplinary form is grounds for discipline up to and including discharge.”
I would also consider asking applicants whether they have ever refused to sign for a disciplinary write-up and I would make this part of my orientation and work rules.