Things at work can sometimes get out of line. An employee may come in late, leave early, take frequent breaks, make numerous personal calls during their shift, AND fail to meet their KPIs. What should you do when this kind of behavior becomes intolerable? How many strikes should you allow before the employee is out?
Well, first you should address any problems or misconducts with performance reviews and during everyday interactions. If an employee’s behavior spirals out of control to an extent where it’s something that’s affecting your organization's activities, it’s time for an employee warning notice. Written warning letters usually indicate a more formal and serious form of reprimand in comparison to verbal warnings.
So how do you pull this off? Well, we’ve got all the information, procedures and tips on writing, structuring and delivering your employee warning letter to make sure that - if you need it, which we hope you won't - you'll be covered.
First thing's first, though. You have to understand when a letter is necessary.
When Is the Right Time to Write an Employee Warning Notice?
Every company handles employee discipline differently. Depending on the severity of the employee’s infraction, the measures taken by an employer and HR professionals vary. Nevertheless, there is a conventional warning procedure for employee discipline that pays attention to employee rights and keeps to an appropriate timeline.
The first disciplinary warning employers and HR professionals should give is a verbal warning notice. If there is no change in the employee’s behavior, the employer moves on to issuing a warning letter and finally to termination of employment.
However, if the employee has committed a serious form of misconduct, the employer has the right to skip verbal warning and proceed to a written warning letter as the first reprimanding action. But in any case, giving employees regular feedback and performance reviews is important and foreshadows future written warning notices.
The takeaway here is that a written warning is typically the second warning. If someone is simply getting off track, not performing their tasks correctly or some other small form of misconduct, don't jump right to the written warning, which is taken more seriously because many employees already know that a write-up is a step closer to termination. So, make sure the warning/discipline aligns with the misconduct.
Let's explore this a little more:
Why Should You Issue an Employee Warning Notice?
An employee’s poor performance at work can have various effects on an organization. Here are the main signs that signal an employee’s conduct is having a detrimental effect for business:
- Cut in product quality
- Decrease in customer satisfaction
- Lower commercial success
- Toxic work environment
- Damaging representation of your brand
- Poor internal and external communication
- Repeated absenteeism
- Expressed concerns from other employees
In such cases, it’s expected that an employer or HR professional will issue an employee warning letter. This warning notice will let the employee know just how serious you are about employee discipline and the measures that will follow if they ignore the warning letter.
Basically, the letter is a way to seriously let your employee know that they need to change their actions. Warnings are meant to stop the behavior before it gets way out of hand.
How Should You Deliver Your Warning Letter to Employees?
Employee warning letters are typically written by HR professionals after consultation with a direct supervisor of the employee in question. This is because HR professionals are familiar with all the laws and employee rights that may affect the validity of the employee warning letter. So it’s best to run it by an HR professional prior to delivering it to the employee.
Additionally, before you deliver the written warning letter, make sure you go through this checklist explaining what you should and shouldn’t do when delivering a warning letter. For example:
- Have a consistent employee discipline policy. Make sure the same rules apply to everyone in the company. This will ensure fairness across all departments and full transparency of employee discipline procedures.
- Provide an initial verbal warning. Only in extreme cases of misconduct does the employer and HR professional issue an employee warning notice without prior notification.
- Investigate all the details surrounding the misconduct. Before you go ahead with employee discipline and write an employee warning notice, you should ensure you have all the details in check. Know the what, why, when, and how surrounding the misconduct to prepare a detailed warning letter.
- Speak to the employee privately. This may clear up any misunderstandings about the incident for which the employee is being reprimanded for. You may even find that there is a justified reason for the employee’s actions and avoid writing an employee warning notice altogether.
- Deliver the written warning as soon as an incident occurs. A prompt response from supervisors is crucial to effective employee discipline. The longer you wait to take disciplinary action, the more time it will take to rectify damages. Also, the degree of fault may diminish with time and lose validity.
- State that it is a written warning letter. Failure to refer to the warning letter as an official written employee warning notice may cause the warning notice to be disregarded and deemed void when future measures are taken.
- Get the employee to sign the employee warning notice. The employee should confirm they have received and understood the disciplinary action and accept the consequences if they fail to redeem themselves.
What Should You Include in Your Employee Warning Notice?
Once you’re ready to put together your employee warning letter, follow this content template to ensure you insert all the key pieces of information.
- Start your written warning letter by clearly and meticulously communicating the problem and the reason for the issuance of a written warning letter. Be as specific as possible. Include dates, witnesses and don’t forget to mention that this is a written warning notice. If the type of misconduct is listed in the company policy, reference it.
- In the following paragraph, explain the corrective action required from the employee. Again, be as specific as possible. If there is a set period of time in which the changes should be implemented, specify it.
- Subsequently, let the employee know the disciplinary actions that will follow. This is usually the process that follows this warning notice. For example, will there be a final employee warning letter, suspension or immediate termination of employment if the employee fails to make necessary changes and improvements?
- Continue your warning letter by explaining the appeals process. This means going through the steps the employee should take in order to object the disciplinary actions.
- Lastly, get the employee to sign the warning letter to acknowledge its receipt. If the employee refuses to sign, get a higher-level staff member to witness the employee’s receipt of the warning letter and sign on their behalf. Write the witness’s name under their signature.
Understand the Restrictions of Employee Discipline
Employee discipline is all about creating a work environment that is safe, pleasant and productive – for everyone. Normally employers decide when and how employee discipline should be exercised, however, sometimes there may be some legal issues that may obstruct the employee discipline process. You may be subject to legal risks in the following instances:
- Your company policy doesn’t clearly explain the employee discipline process to the employees.
- Employees are unaware of what is and isn’t acceptable.
- Your employee discipline process lacks consistency.
- Managers and supervisors show favoritism.
- Unwarranted grounds for starting the employee discipline process.
- No evidence to support employee misconduct.
Avoid all legal issues by speaking to your lawyer about your company policy before you decide to take any disciplinary action.
Want to learn more about how to warn employees? Check out our employee warning template here: