September 14, 2012 9:24 AM   Subscribe

A school administrator just read me a letter listing what they say are my misdeeds and asked me to sign it. I do not agree with the contents of the letter, and I am scared that they are asking me to sign something that is factually incorrect and tht I do not understand. What should I do?

When I asked for clarification, I was told that I was defensive in response to feedback and that that was one of the things I needed to address. The letter includes steps they would like me to take to address what they consider my misdeeds, but I am reluctant to sign something I do not understand. What should I do? Is this common procedure? Do I need a lawyer? If so, where do I find one? Is there someone I should talk to about this?
posted by ladypants to Education (24 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Are you a student or an employee? Where do you live?
posted by mr_roboto at 9:26 AM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

No, don't sign anything you are uncomfortable with, ever.

Are you a student or a teacher?
posted by quodlibet at 9:26 AM on September 14, 2012 [11 favorites]

Don't sign anything you don't understand.

You haven't provided any information for which anyone here could give you any useful advice. Is this high school or a university? Do you work there or study? Where? What did they say you did? How did this happen?

Does your institution have an ombudsman or ombudsperson you can talk to about this? I would start there if so.
posted by grouse at 9:28 AM on September 14, 2012 [10 favorites]

Do you have a union rep?
posted by DarlingBri at 9:29 AM on September 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

This sounds like you are a teacher, but I am guessing.

I would say this is their way of documenting stuff about you that they can use to fire you later on.

Don't sign. If you have a union, go talk to them now.

(Don't sign if you are a student, either.)
posted by instead of three wishes at 9:30 AM on September 14, 2012 [5 favorites]

Never, never, never sign anything attesting to "misdeeds" without a lawyer, union rep or someone on your side and knowledgeable about the situation present. It's a little unclear what your situation is, exactly, so any clarifying details could be useful. You can also contact the mods to drop some more detail into the question and anonymize it.
posted by griphus at 9:31 AM on September 14, 2012 [12 favorites]

This is a common administrative CYA.

They get a signed document (which you can bet will be placed in your personnel file) that they can wave while saying, "See, see. We talked to Ladypants about this problem and she agreed that corrective action was needed."

Do not give them the pleasure.
posted by John Borrowman at 9:43 AM on September 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

As stated by everyone above, it's not clear what your situation is. If this is an official reprimand, they should provide you with a copy of the document and you can respond in writing stating your position and correcting any misstatements. Don't sign anything until you understand what is going on. Employers can require that you sign a reprimand to show proof that you received the document. They should also sign your response acknowledging receipt.

If you're an employee, get a copy of the employee handbook or talk to HR. HR is NOT your friend. But they should ensure that you're informed about procedures and that the procedures are being followed.

Talk to an attorney or ombudsman.
posted by shoesietart at 9:48 AM on September 14, 2012

If you are a student, they have already fucked up by putting something like this for you to sign without having already shoved an ombudsman (whose responsibility it is to protect you) at you. Your first step should be to find your ombudsman, if there isn't one or you are unhappy with them, then yes you need a lawyer who can advise you. If you're in a college town you can be garunteed that there is one who will be happy to talk to you, they will want to be paid before they do anything however.

If you are a TA you need to be talking to your advisor about this yesterday, if you are new and do not yet have an advisor then you need to be talking to your department's ombudsman - there should be a professor with a kind demeanor assigned to this sort of thing. If there isn't, and also isn't a strong not-fake union, then yes you very much need a lawyer advising you. Make for damn sure you are intimately familiar with the relevant sections of your department's handbook.

If you are a lecturer/professor/professional instructor, then you should be talking to your faculty union yesterday. If you are unhappy with the amount of help they can provide, they yes it is time for a lawyer to advise you.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:51 AM on September 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

Just to clarify, are they asking you to sign to acknowledge that you have read the complaint, or to acknowledge that you have been naughty?

I certainly wouldn't sign the latter. This is why the 5th Amendment was made: to protect people from being forced to incriminate themselves.
posted by musofire at 10:33 AM on September 14, 2012

I was defensive in response to feedback

This is what people say when they want you to quit standing up for yourself. Never sign anything admitting to anything.
posted by dortmunder at 10:39 AM on September 14, 2012 [18 favorites]

Definitely don't sign a document you disagree with and don't understand.

(But note that the fifth amendment refers to witnesses incriminating themselves under oath, so is not applicable here. )
posted by insectosaurus at 10:51 AM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


The misdeads, did you do them? and the feedback they think you rejected, even if it wasn't valuable, was it at least honest?

From the wording of your question, it does seem like you could probably use a better understanding of the expectations for your role as an undergrad/grad student/instructor. I would strongly recommend you seek that out with someone who can give you good advice.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:07 AM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Typically these sorts of documents read something like "I acknowledge that I received this letter on XX/XX/XX from supervisor_name." Ours even includes that signing doesn't indicate you agree, just that you received it. When employees don't sign it, we just note that they refused to sign and the date. If it takes that form, you aren't agreeing to anything other than the fact that you signed. On some level, I suppose it might make you look like a pain in the neck if it was used in an unemployment hearing or a legal proceeding and you refused to sign, but my employment attorney wife says nothing more than that. So, if you don't want to sign it, don't. However, not signing it doesn't do anything to improve your position.
posted by Lame_username at 11:11 AM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

First of all, do nothing without representation (Union, ombudsman, etc).

Get copies of everything.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:17 AM on September 14, 2012

i once worked at a company that labelled anyone who didn't fawn all over their superiors and actually knew how to do their job more than competently as "arrogant." i was pulled in one day and given a "final warning" (despite never having been given any prior warnings) about an incident in which i was accused of "denigrating" the company to a friend/vendor. this was really all just groundwork for them to get rid of me. i was long past the point at which i cared to stay and was waiting out their eventual release rather than quit so that i could collect unemployment.

anyway, the document they wanted me to sign was essentially to acknowledge that i received the warning. the document did include space for me to comment and i wrote a page stating for the record that i only signed to acknowledge receiving the "final warning," that i did not agree with the final warning, that i did not receive prior warnings and to refute their accusations.
posted by violetk at 11:41 AM on September 14, 2012

It sounds to me like they are asking your to sign something that confirms you were notified, not that you are guilty. Acknowledging receipt of feedback is not the same as agreeing to it. HOWEVER, do NOT sign anything until you understand it or someone you trust has explained it to you. I also suggest drafting your own response to be added to the file.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:55 AM on September 14, 2012

Contact your HR department and your union (if you are a member). There should be a department in HR that handles questions and complaints. As was stated above generally signing these is considered an acknowledgement of receipt BUT you should clarify that that is the case for your district.

Your HR department should be able to tell you the proper rebuttal procedure. In my company you would sign the document to acknowledge receipt, then attach a written rebuttal. Both would be stapled together in your file.

If the "misdeeds" they mention are factually incorrect and you have documentation of any kind that corroborates your statements you should also include copies with your rebuttal.

If you think you are being targeted by these allegations you should contact your Equity and Compliance reps (again in HR).
posted by dadici at 12:15 PM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

The fact that this is filed under education makes me think this might be where ladypants goes to school.
posted by anonnymoose at 12:49 PM on September 14, 2012

Do not sign it! My mother was in a similar position, and she signed it without fully understanding the contents or evaluation the situation. Later, they used the paper she signed to terminate her employment. Even though the contents turned out to be false, there was nothing that anyone could do for her because she acknowledged it by signing.
posted by cyml at 1:22 PM on September 14, 2012

Also, start documenting these interactions. If it gets to the level of court/mediation, whoever has records ends up looking credible. If both sides have conflicting records of the interactions... at least you didn't lose already!
posted by IAmBroom at 1:32 PM on September 14, 2012

A manager once coerced me into signing a paper saying my attendance at work was crap. My attendance had been pretty bad, to be honest, but the sheet he put in front of me wasn't accurate. I know this because I had kept my own records.

I was a temporary employee, so he basically said they would fire me if I didn't sign it, so I did. Shortly thereafter, they "terminated my contract."

I don't suggest signing *anything* without a consultation with someone who can protect you.
posted by tacodave at 2:29 PM on September 14, 2012

I've been on the manager side of this situation. Normally, the signature on the document is an acknowledgement that you have received it, not a statement that you agree with it. Your document might vary, so read closely. I've had employees refuse to sign and I just documented that it was discussed on X date at Y time and the employee refused to sign, per management policy at my workplace. Some of these employees have later been terminated, but others have not.
posted by kamikazegopher at 4:20 PM on September 14, 2012

The OP really needs to provide more information if they want productive answers.
posted by werkzeuger at 9:43 AM on September 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

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