Measuring employee job performance often is accomplished through annual performance appraisals and informal feedback that supervisors and managers provide to their employees. That said, neither supervisors nor employees are fond of the appraisal process because so many of them turn out to be mere report cards that grade performance without offering solutions for improvement or ways to help employees become successful. In many cases, employees who are dissatisfied with their performance appraisals or who dispute the contents of an appraisal refuse to sign it.
An employer can fire you for any any reason or for no reason, based on the employment-at-will doctrine, which says both employers and employees have the right to end the working relationship with or without advance notice at any time. Employment-at-will isn't a law; it's a doctrine to which many employers adhere. Companies post notices about at-will conditions on employment applications and in employment handbooks to remind workers that they serve at the pleasure of the company and that their employment can be terminated at any time. Consequently, not signing a performance appraisal could become a reason why an employer would let an employee go.
Supervisors' and employees' moaning about annual performance appraisals aren't literally audible, but many of both don't look forward to the annual rating process. Supervisors' reasons for procrastinating on the appraisal process have to do with the time it takes from their daily responsibilities to review employee records, draft recommendations and meet with employees about their performance. Employees often dislike performance appraisals because the appraisal meetings usually turn out to be a mere formality, giving the supervisor an opportunity to tell an employee what she's doing wrong rather than give her feedback on how to improve her performance, or involve compliments on exemplary work.
Many organizations won't say that an employee's refusal to sign a performance appraisal is a terminable offense, but employers have a way of documenting the employee's refusal to agree with her supervisor's assessment. During an appraisal meeting, the supervisor typically provides the employee with a copy of the appraisal document and reviews it with her, line by line. If the performance appraisal meeting is conducted according to HR best practices, the employee and the supervisor engage in a two-way discussion about performance, goal-setting, accomplishments and ways to improve. However, that doesn't always happen, which makes some employees feel that their only recourse is to refuse their supervisors' assessment of their performance, and the way to refuse that assessment is to not sign the appraisal document.
Firing an employee for not signing her performance appraisal seems pretty harsh, but it's not illegal, based on the employment-at-will doctrine. However, some employers recognize the value of implementing an appeals process for employees who dispute their performance ratings. An appeals process saves employers money because terminating employees because they won't sign a performance appraisal can be costly. Permitting employees to submit a rebuttal is a far more effective way to reduce turnover, particularly if supervisors habitually give less-than-stellar reviews or if employees are overall dissatisfied with their supervisors' evaluations. Some rebuttals must be submitted in writing, while some employees can just stop by the human resources department and express their disapproval.
Instead of firing an employee for refusing to sign her performance appraisal, some employers merely ask a supervisor or manager to witness the employee's refusal. If there are three people present in the appraisal meeting, a member of company leadership will usually write "Employee refused to sign" on the line that indicates the employee acknowledges receipt of the document. Importantly, refusal to sign doesn't mean the appraisal is unfair or that the employee officially disputes the rating. It simply means the employee refused to acknowledge receipt of the appraisal, which is why an appeals process is good to have. An option for an employee who formally disputes the rating is to sign the document when her employer doesn't offer an appeals process, and add to her signature, "I dispute my supervisor's rating contained in this performance appraisal."
Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Ruth resides in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.