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


May 8, 2014

Though not required by law, employers should consider requiring employees to sign the employee handbook acknowledgment form. In addition, employers may require employees to sign an acknowledgment whenever an updated handbook is distributed.

Because an employee handbook outlines the policies and guidelines of the organization, it is an important part of the employment process for employees. The purpose of a signed acknowledgment is to demonstrate that the employee has not only received the handbook but is also responsible for knowing the information contained within the handbook. Depending on the language in the acknowledgment form, signing this form can also demonstrate that the employee understands the “at-will” statement and that nothing in the handbook creates an “employment contract” with the organization. Employers that have proof that an employee received a handbook may find that it becomes critical in legal disputes.

Employees sometimes misunderstand that by refusing to sign the acknowledgement form means that they are not still held accountable for following and complying with the policies and procedures in the handbook. However, this is not the case as the acknowledgement 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 refuses to sign a handbook acknowledgment, an employer does have some options. One option would be to have the employee write “I refuse to sign acknowledgment” in his or her own handwriting. Another option would be to have an organization representative write “employee refused to sign acknowledgment” and have the organization representative and another witness sign the form. 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.

Finally, it is possible for an employer to view the refusal to sign the acknowledgement form as insubordination and therefore, a terminable offense. However, it is important to carefully consider all options prior to taking this action. Employers should consider the purpose for obtaining the signature and the actual effect of the employee’s refusal. Organizations must evaluate the effect against the costs associated with recruiting and replacing the employee following termination. Additionally, employers should uniformly apply any rules resulting in termination for refusing to sign an acknowledgement form. 

Employers should make every effort to receive signed handbook acknowledgments from all employees when first hired and at any time the handbook is updated.

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This material is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should always contact your attorney to determine if this information, and your interpretation of it, is appropriate to your particular situation.


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