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Each year since 2015 the HR department at my company has asked all employees to sign a form similar to this Notice and Acknowledgement of Pay Rate and Payday Under Section 195.1 of the New York State Labor Law form.

When I was first asked to sign the form, an HR employee pulled it out of a large pile of forms. The pile contained one form for each employee of the company, and every form had an employee's name and salary pre-filled in. I also observed that the pile was left out on a desk and easily accessible in case anyone wanted to just browse through the pile and check people's salaries.

Being that I'm highly sensitive when it comes to information security issues and confidential information like salaries, I was concerned about the privacy implications of the existence of this pile of documents. I took my form but asked why all employees were being asked to sign these. I was told by the HR employee that, "it's required by law."

So I looked into it and found this page on the official New York State website which stated that starting on 4/9/2011 employers were required to

"give written notice of wage rates to each new hire."

However, an update was posted at the top of the page (and still exists as of 6/14/2019) stating that on 12/29/2014 the Governor of New York State signed a bill eliminating the requirement that

"employers notify and receive written acknowledgement from every worker about their rate of pay, allowances, pay day, etc,"

annually, effective immediately. It also mentioned that,

"businesses are still required to notify employees as required at the time of hire."

Screenshot of the notice:

screenshot of 12/29/14 update

I also found this FAQ for employers which addresses what happens if an employee refuses to sign:

  1. What if a worker refuses to sign the notice?

The employer should still give the notice to the worker and note the worker’s refusal on its copy of the notice.

So given that:

  • I was hired prior to 2011 (before the law requiring new hires to sign the form first came about)

  • I confirmed that the law no longer required existing employees to sign the form annually as of 12/29/2014

  • I confirmed that even prior to 12/29/2014, employees were not actually required to sign the form

  • I was concerned about how the combination of my name and salary being easily-accessible to other employees, and that it may have already been revealed to other employees for all I know

  • I was concerned of where this pile of documents was before I learned of it and where it will go afterwards (I assumed the document would end up in some file cabinet somewhere, which may or may not have restricted access).

  • I am a firm believer in paperwork reduction and digitization and I believe all official correspondence should always be facilitated through secure electronic systems with identity authentication controls rather than printed papers and handwritten signatures.

I decided not to sign the form, and also kept it for my own records instead of returning it to their pile.

My actions caused the HR employee to become very angry with me and they began yelling at me in front of other employees that I was "being difficult," and also threatened to report my noncompliance to the HR director. I calmly and professionally attempted to explain to them why I made that decision (the bullet points I listed above) but they refused to listen and went to report me anyway.

I didn't hear anything after that so I emailed the HR director directly and reported that I'd been asked to sign that printed form and I explained my concerns as to why I didn't want to do that. They responded and said that they, "could not force" me to sign the document and said they would send me a copy indicating that I chose not to sign. They also mentioned that they recently had an audit, and will continue to have audits, in which they are required to produce these forms for random employees. They then later emailed me a copy of the un-signed form with a note that I refused to sign it (as they were required to).

That was back in 2015, but today I was informed by the HR department that they still require all employees to fill out these forms annually and they just haven't been asking me to sign them each year because of my previous refusal to do so in 2015. I reiterated my concerns, primarily the one about how I'm not OK with the fact that papers with my name and salary are still being generated each year and are likely easily accessible to anyone at the office.

So while they have not been requiring me to sign them, they have also not been giving me copies of the form with confirmation of my refusal to sign.

So my questions are:

  1. Was I wrong to point out to them that the forms are no longer required by law for existing employees annually?

  2. Will I be in any legal trouble for refusing to sign the form(s)?

  3. If the company is audited would they have any legal issues if they haven't been providing me the forms with notice of my refusal to sign?

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    You aren't required to sign it - your employer needs to present it to you. That's why there is a whole section for employers dealing with non-signing employees. However, is this the hill you're willing to die on? If you refuse to sign it, is there a chance that you'll be singling yourself out as someone to terminate? Is there a reason you're concerned about signing? You mentioned being bothered about the paper being left out but your signature won't have any impact on that. – Brian R Jun 14 at 18:01
  • @JoeStrazzere I'm with the OP on this. When you start giving up on your rights as an employee, you establish a precedent with them. Workers taking collective action against employers behaving poorly can, and will, make changes. – Malisbad Jun 16 at 0:39
  • @JoeStrazzere perhaps, in this case, right was the wrong word. That being said, OP is going at this the wrong way. Everyone knowing what everyone else's salary is the best outcome here. It gives all employees the ability to rally around what they're getting paid to identify people who are being grossly underpaid, along with various disparities for people doing the same work (gender wage gap anyone?). – Malisbad Jun 16 at 23:37
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I think you may be looking at this wrong.

It looks like there's no actual legal reason that they have to do this. That's also basically immaterial to your situation.

This is HR. HR gets a lot of regulations and requirements from a lot of people. HR's job is to implement those. Some of the requirements are vitally important to the long-term health of the company. Some are legacy requirements that were vitally important, that aren't anymore, that no one has updated. Some are because someone in authority, somewhere along the way was confused or wrong or just had a serious personal issue about something or heard this one story about what happened to one of their peers. It doesn't matter. In any company that's large enough to have HR people that report to an HR manager, it's not about carefully examining each requirement in turn. It's about doing the dumb things you gotta do. They are not the ones who came up with this requirement. They're just being told to make it happen... and when you refuse to support them on it, that makes their lives more difficult whether or not you are correct.

So. You've run into one of these regulations. You disagree with it and disapprove of it, and have evidence that it is unnecessary. Okay. Specifically, your issue is not that they are asking you to fill out the form. Your issues is that the form is being generated at all. As a result you are refusing to sign. This is not actually helping anyone. It's not reducing the number of times that this form is created. If anything, it's increasing the number of associated forms. It's not doing anything to stop the policy because the word never gets to the ears of people with the authority to stop the policy. It mostly just makes life harder for that likely-already-overworked HR people at your level, since they have to work around your intransigence. That additional hassle on their part doesn't actually help you in any way.

If you want to actually achieve your goals, you're going to have to dig. You're going to have to figure out who this initiative is coming from, and then you're going to have to convince them. It will almost certainly be someone pretty high up in the company hierarchy, and there's a good chance they won't respond well to some random employee trying to tell them that they're wrong, even (especially) if they are wrong. Still, that's how you get stuff like this fixed.

If you're not going to actually try to get this fixed, then, honestly, it's less hassle for all involved if you just do the dumb thing, even though it's dumb. Possibly make it clear to the HR people that you're doing it on their behalf, rather than because you think it's actually worth doing. Nonviolent resistance isn't going to get you anywhere.

You weren't (technically) wrong. We've no real reason to think that anyone's actually in any legal trouble. That doesn't mean that yours is a particularly good way to respond to the situation.

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    Yes! Not only your privacy is still not being safeguarded (despite no longer signing the notice), but now, you're being seen as a problem employee. You've made a strategic mistake. If I were you, I'd apologize, sign the damn thing, say you misunderstood something (because you did misunderstand that this move would bring you more privacy, so you wouldn't be lying about that), and then I'd polish my resume and look for a new job elsewhere (not for legal reasons, but because now that you have potential enemies in HR, that's going to have negative repercussions against you in the future). – Stephan Branczyk Jun 14 at 22:49
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Was I wrong to point out to them that the forms are no longer required by law for existing employees annually?

No.

Will I be in any legal trouble for refusing to sign the form(s)?

If signing the form isn't a matter of law then I don't see how you could be in legal jeopardy by not signing it. It's not illegal to not break the law.

If the company is audited would they have any legal issues if they haven't been providing me the forms with notice of my refusal to sign?

The document you linked to states:

The employer should still give the notice to the worker and note the worker’s refusal on its copy of the notice.

I think the key word in that sentence is should. It does not state that the employer must. That's a bit of a gray area. My guess is that there's a definitive difference in those two words from a legal sense. You may want to ask an employment law attorney about this.


Additionally, you're describing two different issues in your question:

  1. The form itself and whether or not you're required to sign it.

  2. The lack of oversight in leaving the forms out, visible, and accessible for anyone to view.

Let me address item number 2 first. Your refusal to sign the form doesn't negate or erase the information on the form. Anyone who has access to the pile of forms can easily see your information, regardless of whether or not you signed it. You should address this with your manager and with HR as a separate issue. This carelessness isn't relevant to your signing (or not) of the form.

Now for item number 1, it appears that HR was misinformed or uninformed when they told you that your signing of the form was a matter of law. That being said, law or not, if the company policy requires you to sign the form then your refusal to do so could give them a reason to let you go, although they probably don't need a legal reason to let you go (New York is an "at-will" state), but it could give them the internal justification for letting you go.

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