Occasionally, the person that was once a star employee turns into a slacker. They go from hitting their KPIs to turning up to work an hour late, taking an extra-long lunch break and making personal calls on company time.
So, what can you do when you need to discipline an employee? And is a written warning the only option?
If you’ve already used the soft approach (verbal warning), a written notice could be your answer. The purpose here is to inform the employee how their misconduct has an impact on their work and the company as a whole.
When it comes to serious one-time offences, it makes sense to bypass the verbal warning stage. Instead, you’ll want written proof that can go in the employee’s file.
So, to ensure you’re fully covered next time you have a disciplinary situation, we’ve listed all the information, tips and steps to follow when you need to prepare your very own warning letter.
Structuring Your Letter
As this is an official letter, you must carefully abide by some formatting rules to ensure that the information is clearly presented in a professional manner.
Your letter should typically follow the below structure:
- Sender’s address: Start the letter with your address listed in the left-hand corner of the page (or in the right-hand corner if you're based in the US).
- Recipient’s address: This should appear a few lines below the sender’s address, aligned to the left of the document.
- Date: Include the official date of the letter a few lines below the recipient’s address.
- Subject line: The subject of your letter should be clear and to the point. For example, it should say something like ‘Warning Letter for Employee Name’, followed by the reason for the reprimand.
- Salutation: Although standard letters follow a formal salutation (eg: ‘Dear Mr Smith’), as you are writing to an employee that you speak to on a daily basis, it’s acceptable to address them by their first name (for example, ‘Dear Jane’).
- Opening paragraph: In the opening paragraph, you should get straight to the point of the letter. You must clearly and meticulously list the problem and the reason for issuing the letter. Specific details should also be included within the first sentence; for example, if the event happened on a specific day, or if it is following a verbal warning that was carried out, be sure to date it.
- Body: Within the second paragraph, explain the action that is required to correct the issue. For example, if you are going to implement a correctional training scheme, list the specific details, along with the timeframe that will be given for improvement.
- Final paragraph: The third paragraph should advise what disciplinary action should follow. For example, if the next step is termination of employment, you need to write it clearly in this section. This is important as it protects the business against any legal disputes, ensuring that you gave the employee plenty of time for improvements.
- Closing: You should close your letter on a positive note, which shows that you still believe there is time for the employee to improve. For example, you could specify that you still believe they are a ‘valuable asset to the organisation’.
- Your name and signature: As you will need a written copy of this letter, opt for a handwritten signature. You will also need to leave space for the employee’s signature at the bottom of the letter.
Tips for Writing Your Letter
- Speak to the employee privately: When delivering such news, it’s essential that it’s kept private and away from other employees – and carrying out such conversations should be in an office setting. Besides, it’s important to also speak to the employee before delivering the letter so it doesn’t come as a surprise.
- Deliver the warning letter as soon as the incident happens: If you want to be taken seriously, you should issue the warning and take effective measures as soon as the event occurs. Waiting simply diminishes the severity of the warning and can take longer to rectify any damages.
- Reinforce what the consequences are in writing: Although you would have verbally informed your employee of the consequences, it’s important to reiterate them if the outcome doesn’t change or if they fail to improve in the area that they have fallen behind.
- Ask the employee to sign the letter: While it’s not compulsory for the employee to sign the letter, it’s advisable that they do. It confirms that they’ve acknowledged the warning and understand the consequences if they fail to redeem themselves. If they refuse to sign it, you can gain proof of receipt by attaching the letter to an email and sending that across.
Below are a couple of different written warning templates to follow when you’re preparing a letter of reprimand of your own.
Things to Remember
- Keep it factual and objective: Keeping emotions out of difficult conversations is essential, as you don’t want your employee to feel as if they are being personally attacked; listing facts and figures is much more effective. In such cases, employees can get heated and emotional, but while it can be uncomfortable, you should remain calm and composed.
- Don’t forget to proofread: This may seem like an obvious point, but it’s essential that you proofread your letter before sending it to the employee in question. Consider using an online proofreading tool like Grammarly or Hemingway App, or asking a colleague in Human Resources to read over the letter.
- Consider seeking legal advice: If you’re concerned about the legalities of the disciplinary action, you should consult a lawyer or an employee association who will guide you through the procedure. They will be able to advise what the best measures are to ensure you don’t end up in a legal battle further down the line.
While warning employees on their performance and actions can be tough, it’s necessary to take the appropriate measures and follow company policy. If the dismissed employee decides to take legal action further down the line, an employment tribunal will consider if the employee was warned about their performance or conduct issues, and a warning letter does just that!
Have you ever had to issue a warning letter before? Share your experiences with us in the comments section below.