Workplace Q & A: Part 1

Q: Do I have to sign a written warning?

“I am a midlevel officer at a large company. Yesterday, my manager and a human resources person handed me a written warning for performance deficiencies. They told me to read it, sign it and return it today.

“I read the warning and there are major inaccuracies. Do I have to sign the warning?”

A: The short answer is “no,” but there is a better strategy than simply not signing.

First, it is important to understand why the company wants you to sign. Many courts and governmental agencies require an employee to have notice of performance deficiencies before he can be terminated. The company wants you to sign so it can claim that it has fulfilled this notice requirement.

Simply refusing to sign the notice won’t get you off the hook. Your manager and the HR representative will be able to testify that you received the warning anyway. If you claim that you didn’t read it, you’ll look irresponsible.

Instead, you should inform the HR person that you need a few days to respond. During that time, you should craft a very factual, unemotional response to the warning. The response should start by stating: “I received the warning and read it carefully and my response is as follows.” This should be followed by an explanation that carefully details every inaccuracy, setting forth each of the alleged facts that are false.

Q: Can my company bar me from returning to my desk once I’ve been fired?

“I was recently terminated from my job because of a job elimination. My major clients decided not to renew their contracts with the company. After I was given notice of being RIFed, I was escorted out of the building by a security guard. It made me look like I was a criminal or was fired for gross misconduct. Isn’t this illegal? Doesn’t it violate my right to privacy?”

A: The short answer is “probably not.”

Companies routinely escort terminated employees out of the building for several reasons. They do not want to risk destruction of property or theft of documents. They do not want to risk an emotional scene in the workplace. They don’t want to make case-by-case determinations as to who is honest and who is not, so they don’t let any terminated employee return to his desk.

In your case, if your company routinely escorts terminated employees from the building, you would have no basis to complain. However, if you were singled out while other RIFed employees were permitted to return to their offices, and if there were no allegations of dishonesty on your part, then you have been wronged. In that case, you might be able to use the mistreatment to your advantage. Pointing this out to the company and threatening to file a formal complaint may give the company an incentive to increase your severance pay or offer you something else of value.


Q: Can my manager tell my co-workers that I’m being treated for rheumatoid arthritis?

“I recently had to take time off from work because of a flare up of my rheumatoid arthritis. My medical condition has never impacted my job and I don’t expect it to do so in the future. While I was out, several of my co-workers naturally asked where I was. My manager explained that I was being treated for rheumatoid arthritis. Is my manager allowed to do this?”

A: Your manager acted inappropriately.

By divulging medical information with no business reason to do so, he violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and your right to privacy. That said, you need to decide on how to proceed. Certainly you should point out this managerial lapse to your Human Resources Department and obtain assurances it will never happen again. You should also prepare a response for any co-worker who inquires about your situation, emphasizing that your condition was temporary and that you are now absolutely fine.

Copyright © 2013 Johanna Harris

Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. This post contains numerous questions describing common recurring problems in the workplace. The circumstances described in these questions, including the names of characters and business firms, are fictitious.

About the Author: Johanna Harris has been a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Labor and in-house labor counsel for two multinational corporations. She is currently the CEO of Hire Fire and Retire LLC. Her new book, USE PROTECTION: An Employee’s Guide to Advancement in the Workplace (i Book, Kindle, Amazon Paperback), is intended to help you learn enough about labor law and personnel practices so that you don’t get derailed from the career track you should be on.



One response to “Workplace Q & A: Part 1”

  1. missdisplaced says :

    The only thing I have to add to #1 is that no, they cannot force you to sign the thing “right now.”

    I’ve heard of a big box retail company doing the following:
    The employee is pulled into the office for a written write up/notice of performance. When the employee refused to sign the notice, they were told they could not LEAVE the office until it was signed. In effect, they were detained for 5 HOURS in that office, and not even allowed to use the restroom! The employee in question finally did sign with a “I do not agree or concur with these statements” clause in order to leave the room.

    When I heard this I went nuts. Your employer is not the police. They cannot forcibly detain you for refusing to sign something.

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