Do I have to sign that? A Texas employee’s dilemma.

From application to termination an employee often faces documents that an employer wants the employee to sign. These documents may be job applications, employee policy statements, authorizations to perform background checks, acknowledgements of receipts of policy documents, benefits paperwork disciplinary documents, acknowledgements of terminations, severance agreements, waivers of rights or claims against the employer and so on. Employee files are typically filed with documents bearing the employee’s signature.

Employees typically feel like they have no choice but to sign the document put in front of them. In a sense, that’s true. Employers cannot force employees to sign a document. In the vast majority of situations an employer may discipline or fire an employee who fails to sign paperwork. The more relevant question is really whether you should sign the document put in front of you.

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What can a Texas employer do to entice you to sign a legal or employment document

Let’s first explore the issue of what an employer can do to entice you to sign a document. An employer can generally offer you a benefit to sign some document, such as a raise or bonus. That is usually not the concern. The concern most employees have is whether the employer can require a signature with no benefit or with risk of discipline.

An employer cannot force you to sign a document in the sense of the employer holding a pen in your hand and physically making you sign. Nor can an employer hold a gun to your hand and make you choose between life or a signature.

If those scenarios are really occurring then you have much bigger problems than whether you should sign something.

Otherwise an employer is generally free to discipline you for not signing a document. That is because refusing to sign is a form of insubordination and employers are generally free to discipline insubordination.

In limited situations an employer’s request that you sign a document or suffer discipline can create claims against the employer.

This is most likely to occur when an employer insists that an employee sign a document denying truthful allegations of unlawful conduct (such as harassment or other forms of employment discrimination), signing a false statement of facts that opposes a complaint of unlawful employment conduct, or requiring an employee to waive legal claims against the employer or lose their job.

In these cases the choice between firing or signing the document will likely to create a claim of unlawful retaliation against the employer. The employer can still discipline the employee. It will be up to the employee to pursue its employment claims against the employer.

Should you sign the document from your Texas employer?

In the majority of situations the issue is not whether the employee must sign the document but whether the employee should sign the document even at the risk of disciplinary action for failing to sign the document. Generally an employee should sign documents that provide a benefit like direct deposit forms, benefit paperwork and so forth. That’s easy.

On the other hand, employees generally should not sign documents admitting to illegal conduct or explaining the termination. There is no reason for an employee to help an employer avoid a legal claim or an unemployment claim by signing a document or writing a statement of what the employee did to get fired.

Similarly, if you are given a severance agreement or other agreement that includes a waiver of claims against the employer you should never sign these documents until you have the opportunity to talk to an employment attorney and review the language.

A Texas lawyer can advise you on what you must or should sign

In between those ends of the spectrum are a number of other documents an employer may request you sign. Whether you should sign these documents is more dependent upon the individual situation. For example, employers often request employees sign acknowledgements of employer policy documents.

Some prefer not to sign acknowledgements because it prevents the employer from proving the employee knew of a policy violated.

In many cases the conflict over signing the acknowledgement may be more detrimental to an employee’s career or even legal claims than the potential benefit the employee receives by not signing the acknowledgement.

As more employers move over to email distribution of these documents, the easier to prove receipt of policy documents even if no acknowledgement returns. Some people also prefer not to sign corrective action or disciplinary documents. This can be a stickier subject.

If the employer asks for the employee to sign an acknowledgement of receipt then it is less problematic. However, if the employer asks the employee to admit to misconduct then it may not be a good idea. It may defeat a valid claim against the employer, particularly if the allegations are untrue.

If you have concerns about signing a document then you should speak with an employment attorney before signing the document. That is especially true for any paperwork related to the conclusion of your employment with your current employer.

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