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Should employees be required to sign an acknowledgment form for the employee handbook? What if an employee refuses?

Though not required by law, employers should make every effort to receive signed handbook acknowledgments from all employees when first hired and at any time the handbook is updated.

Because an employee handbook outlines the policies and guidelines of the organization, acknowledging receipt of it is an important part of the employment process for employees. The purpose of a signed acknowledgment is to demonstrate that the employee not only has received the handbook but also is responsible for knowing the information contained within the handbook. Employers that have proof that an employee received a handbook may find that it becomes critical in legal disputes.

Employees sometimes mistakenly believe that by refusing to sign an acknowledgment form they can't be held accountable for following and complying with the policies and procedures in the handbook. However, this is not the case as the acknowledgment form merely addresses the receipt of the information and not compliance with the policies.

An employer cannot force an employee to sign the handbook acknowledgment. However, if an employee does refuse to sign, consider the following options:

  • Have the employee write "I refuse to sign acknowledgment" in his or her own handwriting.
  • Have an organization representative write "employee refused to sign acknowledgment" and have the organization representative and another witness sign and date the form. 
  • Make acknowledgment of the handbook a condition of employment and view refusal to sign the acknowledgment form as a terminable offense.

With the first two options, if a legal issue arises, the employer then has documentation indicating that the employee was asked to sign the acknowledgment form and was aware of the handbook.

Before choosing the last option, be sure to consider all of the potential consequences. Employers should evaluate the purpose of the employee's acknowledgment and the actual effect of the employee's refusal to sign the acknowledgment form. Organizations must also consider the costs associated with recruiting and replacing the employee following termination.

Whatever approach an employer chooses to take, the rules should uniformly apply to all employees without discrimination. 



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