The Proper Way to Give a Written Warning

Disciplining an employee has the potential to turn bad … fast. Emotions can escalate. Relationships can deteriorate. And worse, even if you’re disciplining for the right reasons, if you handle it wrong—word things incorrectly, document poorly, be inconsistent—you can be sued.

Underperforming employees are a stressful, unnecessary drain your time. Plus, they’re a costly strain to your organization. As a manager, you simply can’t afford to let the behavior go on. It’s time to deal with it … once and for all. But there is a right way and a wrong way to discipline an employee, especially when it comes to a written warning. Make sure your written discipline procedures are effective, legal and properly administered by following these guidelines.

A Written Warning Contains…

warning letter1. A clear restatement of all the problems under one umbrella statement. The problem should be described in the broadest terms possible. If, in the future, the employee doesn’t do the exact same thing again but something similar, the warning process doesn’t need to be started all over again.

Umbrella Examples:
Your job performance is negatively impacting our team’s productivity. Specifically…

Your contribution to our work efforts is not meeting standards. Specifically…

2. A detailed recital of the specifics of the problem(s) following the umbrella statement. Hold up the mirror to the employee so that he or she can really see what the behavior is—be descriptive and specific.

red card3. Note the content of previous discussions, if any including the dates of occurrences

4. Include an improvement plan and time frame—what must be done to correct the problem and the window of time in which the employee must operate

5. State the consequences of failure to improe.

6. Close with a broad statement: Failure to meet and sustain an acceptable level of performance (and/or behavior) during the warning period or thereafter may result in further disciplinary action, up to and including termination.

7. Use the word may as in “… may result in further disciplinary action,” not will.

Signing the Warning

  • Ask the employee to sign the warning as evidence that he or she received it, not that he or she agrees with the contents
  • If the employee refuses to sign, suggest that the employee write out objections to the content and sign the warning. Or sign the warning, stating that the employee will place his or her written version into the file at a future date.
  • If the employee refuses to sign, have a witness (preferably another supervisor) sign, stating the employee received the warning and refused to sign. Two signatures are needed: That of the person presenting the warning and that of a witness.
  • Give the employee a copy of the signed warning

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