Can my employer force me to sign a bad performance review?

Question:

My boss sat me down today to talk about some performance issues. She said that I’ve been late to work several times, that she’s received reports that I’ve been rude to coworkers, and that I have missed a couple of important deadlines. I don’t know where she’s getting her information, but the issues she brought up were not true. I tried to explain, but she didn’t want to hear it. At the end, she asked me to sign a performance document describing the issues she brought up. Do I have to sign it even though I don’t agree?

Answer:

Your employer can’t force you to sign the performance document, but there may be consequences for refusing to do so. For one, your employer could fire you for refusing to sign. For another, your refusal to sign may disqualify you from receiving unemployment benefits. In most states, employees who are fired for “misconduct” are not eligible to receive unemployment benefits. Although the definition of misconduct varies from state to state, it may include acts of insubordination, such as a refusal to sign a performance review.

However, putting your signature on the document doesn’t have to mean that you agree with what it says. Sometimes the performance document itself will clearly state that your signature means only that you received the document. If this is the case, you’re not agreeing to the contents of the document by signing. If the performance document doesn’t make it clear, you can also write in “I disagree with the contents of this document” next to your signature. This is often the best way to avoid being insubordinate, but to make sure that your signature won’t be misinterpreted later.

Depending on your state, you may also have the right to submit a written statement (called a “rebuttal”) to challenge the issues brought up in the performance document. While your employer typically won’t be obligated to respond to your rebuttal or take any particular action, it will have to include it in your personnel file. If you decide to submit a rebuttal, keep it short and stick to the facts. Stay away from delving into personal details, dishing out insults, or criticizing others. For more information, including your state’s laws on rebuttals, see Nolo’s article, State Laws on Access to Your Personnel File.

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