An employer cannot force employees to attend counseling. When employee counseling is recommended as part of a disciplinary measure, it is generally intended to provide you with insights enabling you to improve your job performance. If you do object to a formal counseling session, however, there may be unwanted consequences as a result of your refusal.
As an employee, you have the right to be fairly paid for the work you do and to be treated respectfully and equitably. Your rights also extend to being able to appropriately express yourself if you believe these rights have been trampled upon. Keep in mind, however, that your employer has rights, too, dictated by company policy. For example, if an employee counseling session has been scheduled, your boss will make a note of that in your personnel file. If you refuse to go to counseling, that action will also be noted. The terms of your employment, expressed by internal policy, might direct your boss to take action that could result in the loss of your job.
Your employer’s personnel handbook should include a complete section describing the disciplinary process. Even if you did not receive a handbook or didn’t sign a document indicating you understand its contents, your employer can still attempt to hold you to policy requirements. By declining employee counseling, an at-will employment clause in the policy could be initiated. At-will employment -- a directive adhered to by several states -- allows employers to fire workers at any time, with or without cause, including for your choice to waive counseling.
Refusing counseling should not be held against you in any unrelated future action, but it’s important to realize that your refusal won’t negate a progressive disciplinary process. For example, if the process obligates your employer to offer a verbal warning (which may include employee counseling) followed by two written warnings, after which release from employment may occur, your decision to forgo counseling would be recorded in your file to represent fulfillment of the verbal warning component. In keeping with company policy, you should still be allowed the two remaining written warnings before you can be fired.
If you decide not to go to employee counseling, you can write down your reasons and ask that they be placed in your personnel file. Doing so will provide a balance in the file's contents should it be reviewed at a later date. However, be aware that a written counterclaim might provoke further anger from your boss. It would be to your advantage to remain calm throughout all your interactions with management.
Michelle Reynolds has been writing about business, careers and art since 1993. She was the publisher of a newsletter, “Working Parents Monthly," as well as a graphic design guidebook. Reynolds also served as human-resources director at a resort/spa for eight years. She is an artist and promotes the arts and other artists through ElegantArtisan.com, a website she developed and maintains.