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Refuse to Sign That Discipline? It Could Mean Voluntary Termination

June 2012

By: Alan E. Seneczko, Esq.

One problem that many HR professionals find particularly vexing is dealing with employees who refuse to acknowledge receipt of disciplinary warnings and similar documents. Although the solution is relatively simple (can you say “termination”), it is always instructive to hear it directly from the “horse’s mouth” – or, in this case, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.

In Kierstead v. LIRC, 2011AP938 (Ct. App. 2012), the court of appeals held that an employee who was terminated after he refused to sign a disciplinary warning had voluntarily terminated his employment without “good cause attributable to the employer,” making him ineligible to receive unemployment compensation benefits. The employer warned the employee that his refusal to sign the warning would result in his termination, and signing the warning did not constitute an admission.

The court essentially held that an employee will be considered to have voluntarily terminated his employment, without good cause, if he refuses to sign a disciplinary warning knowing that his failure to sign the warning will result in his termination and that signing it will not constitute an admission of conduct.

The lesson: All disciplinary notices should: 1) contain a line for the employee to sign and acknowledge receipt of the warning; 2) expressly state that acknowledgement of receipt does not constitute an admission of the conduct at issue, but that refusal to sign can, and will, result in termination of employment; and, 3) provide an area for the employee to comment further, if desired. Once these items are in place, the “refusal to sign” problem should be resolved.

Questions? Please contact WS Attorney Alan E. Seneczko at (262) 560-9696.

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