Our company normally gives written performance evaluations once each year. We also have a practice of giving written counseling notices when we counsel or discipline an employee. We ask the employees to sign their evaluations and counseling notices so there is a record that we talked to the employee, and of the issues that were discussed. Lately, we’ve had a few employees refuse to sign the evaluation or counseling notice. Do you have any suggestions for employee evaluations, and how we should handle an employee’s refusal to sign the evaluation or written warning?


Many employers use written performance evaluations to document employee strengths and weaknesses. These evaluations, when used consistently and objectively, are very useful in helping employees improve performance, and also provide a record of performance deficiencies. Evaluations can also build employee morale by encouraging employees who are performing well, and providing fair warning to employees with unsatisfactory performance.

Here are some tips for completing employee evaluations:

  1. Review the employee’s prior evaluations, and any disciplinary notices given since the last review.
  2. If previously identified weaknesses are still an issue, be sure to note this in the current evaluation. Also acknowledge areas of improvement.
  3. Be honest and fair. Although it may be difficult to criticize performance, this is one of the best ways to clearly communicate performance problems and give the employee the opportunity to improve.
  4. If the employee is in danger of demotion or termination due to performance problems, include this in the evaluation.
  5. Get input from all of the employee’s supervisors when doing an evaluation.
  6. Be objective and consistent in applying performance standards. For example, if several employees are tardy but this fact appears on only one of the employee’s evaluations, the employee could claim unfairness.

Similarly, written warnings or counseling notes are important to establish the employee’s performance issues. They are also useful to provide notice to employees of any performance issues, so employees know how they are doing at work and have an opportunity to improve. When an employee is given warnings and time to improve performance, the employee is less likely to be surprised by a later termination for failure to improve. The employee may not agree with his/her termination, but if prior warnings were given, and the employee had an opportunity to improve, the employee is more likely to feel he/she has been treated fairly in the process.

Although most employees in California are “at will” and can resign or be discharged without cause, employers can protect themselves from wrongful termination claims by providing poor performing employees with notice and the opportunity to improve.

The best way to prove that an employer treated the employee fairly in the evaluation or warning process is to present evidence of evaluations, prior written warnings, and the opportunity to improve before termination. The employee’s signature acknowledging receipt of the evaluation or warning is the best evidence. But, if the employee refuses to sign the document, the supervisor should write “employee refused to sign” and then sign and date the notice. The supervisor can then testify that the evaluation or notice was given to the employee and reviewed with that individual.

It may be helpful to explain to employees that their signature does not mean that they agree with the information in the evaluation or written notice, and that they may submit a written response if they wish. Employees should also understand that they are entitled to receive a copy of any performance related documents in their personnel file that they have signed. This information may make your employees more comfortable signing their evaluations or counseling notices.
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