Sep 16, 2020 • Jaclyn Rainey; FINDLAW/BLOGS/LAW AND DAILY LIFE
What to Do If Someone Asks You to Sign a Blank Paper
Let’s start with the main point: never sign something blank. Don’t do it when asked, and don’t do it for fun and leave it around.
When it comes to areas like employment, real estate, landlord-tenant, criminal charges, or contracts, having your signature on a paper that is easy to manipulate doesn’t spell your name. It spells t-r-o-u-b-l-e.
Federal Laws Surrounding Signatures
Legally, no one can force you to sign anything. Adding your signature can take an otherwise insignificant document and turn it into a contract, so the choice is serious. Sometimes contracts are binding even without a signature.
It is legal:
- To ask someone to sign something
- To fire someone (if they are an at-will employee) or call off a deal when a person refuses to sign something
- To sign without a witness present
- To sign things electronically
It is not
- To threaten or blackmail someone into signing
- To create (forge) a new document with someone’s signature
- To backdate a signed document
- To record a conversation with the person about the blank document (in some jurisdictions)
Common “Blank Paper” Situations
Maybe you accidentally sent private information to the wrong person, messed up a sales deal, or logged into your social accounts on a work computer. HR might set a meeting with you and then ask you to sign a blank paper to “resolve” the situation. These situations may also arise for undocumented immigrants if their bosses have unethical business practices.
“Blank paper” situations can also happen in casual settings if someone wants to make a sale or deal with you, such as taking “free” equipment or taking over a pet when someone moves.
Your boss or landlord might say something like, “Sign this now, and I will fill in the warning paragraph later” or “Sign this now, and I’ll keep it on hand in case it happens again.” These kinds of statements are a huge red flag.
Questions to Ask Yourself
If you are asked to sign a blank piece of paper, ask yourself:
- Have you already signed something for this person or business, such as a sales contract, lease agreement, or employment contract?
- Have you signed anything that directly applies to what happened? (For example, did you sign a non-compete agreement but then take a job with a competitor?)
- Do you have an employment contract? Are you in a union?
- Are you a member of a protected class?
- Are you a government employee?
- Would this person blackmail you?
- Could this be used as a release of rights (such as signing away your right to bring a lawsuit)?
What to Do If Asked to Sign a Blank Paper
Don’t sign. If you feel you absolutely cannot avoid signing then do the following after signing:
- Add the date.
- Draw a line across the paper and write “BLANK.”
- Take a photo of the blank paper with your signature on it.
- Make sure the photo has a date.
- Keep the photo as long as you have the job/lease/contract/etc.
- Get a written statement from HR, the person who asked you to sign, or the police (if applicable) that says you talked to them about your concerns.
- File a written report listing the facts with the police (in some cases they may not allow this since a crime has not happened yet).
You should probably keep the photo somewhere safe for years to come. A company or person could raise a conflict about the situation throughout the statute of limitations. This is two or more years in most states.
What If You Already Signed a Blank Paper?
Keep in mind you haven’t actually agreed to anything if you have already signed a blank paper. But you have given someone else the opportunity to do something illegal and (likely) try to blame you. Get ahead of the situation as soon as you can.
You can speak to an attorney proactively (often for free) and explain the situation. They can give you a feel for where the company or person who asked you to sign may be going with this.