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Letters of reprimand for employees

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Letters of reprimand for employees
September 19, 2019 1st Anniversary Wishes 2 comments

Templates for Any Category of Employee. Sample Letter - Employee Conference Summary. Sample Letter - Formal Letter of Reprimand - Behavior Concern.

Sometimes employee behavior or performance gets so bad that you have to draft a formal warning letter explaining expectations and outlining consequences.  

The CEO of a small company has a wide range of performance-management tools at his or her disposal. The warning letter is kept at the back of that arsenal, only dusted off when there is a serious or chronic problem.

Typically a warning letter would be preceded by verbal conversations between the employee and his or her supervisor, both at performance reviews and in the course of the job. However, "the written communication, by its very nature, suggests that things are more serious at this point and also suggests that maybe [the supervisor's] prior communication wasn't clear enough," says Steve Kane, a human resources consultant based in Hillsborough, California. Here's how to write, deliver, and follow up on a warning letter telling an employee to shape up.


How a Write a Warning Letter for Employee Conduct: Does the Situation Call for a Warning Letter?

Though each company may choose to handle employee infractions differently, and the protocol will obviously change depending on the severity of the misconduct, there is a conventional progression for issuing increasingly serious warnings to the employee. "A lot of employers will start with a documented verbal warning, then they'll move to a written warning, and then a final written warning, and then termination of employment after that," says Darren Reed, a special expertise panel member at the Society for Human Resource Management.

If the warning letter is being issued in response to a serious one-time offense rather than a problem that's been developing over time, it makes sense to bypass the initial verbal warnings and proceed straight to the written reprimand. However, giving your employees continual positive and negative "feedback on their performance is the most important thing because any warning should not come as a surprise," says Kane.

But a written warning is often an indication that there has been some miscommunication on the employee or the employer's part, or both. "The issue with the employee may be that they're not understanding the importance of what you're telling them," theorizes Michele Williams, a professor at Cornell's School of Industrial and Labor Relations in the department of organizational behavior. A warning letter "cues them in that this is not something you're telling me in passing but this is really critical to my job performance."

Dig Deeper: How to Write a Warning Letter for Excessive Absence

How a Write a Warning Letter for Employee Conduct: Common Problems

There are as many reasons to write a warning letter as there are types of behavioral and performance problems with an employee. That said some problems are far more common than others. "Attendance is the most common [problem] for relatively small businesses," Kane says. "Because, at the end of the day, as Woody Allen used to say, '80 percent of life is just showing up.'"

Other common causes for drafting a warning letter include how employees treat their co-workers, inappropriate dress, and electronic communications the company deems inappropriate, such as visiting social media or pornographic websites.

Yet another type of problem is more common still than any of the issues listed above, and that is the quality or quantity of an employee's output. The quantity of work an employee does can increase with additional effort on his or her part but the same is not always true of the quality. For example, "if somebody just doesn't have artistic talent, it doesn't do a whole lot of good to give them 17 warnings," Kane says.

As a result, a sympathetic employer will attempt to be more accommodating of an employee's repeatedly failing to make their quota. If it's a certain skill that the employee is lacking, you could help them secure training within the organization or even reimburse them for outside classes. Kane explains, "it's expensive to terminate employees so you want to help them succeed."

Dig Deeper: How to Writing a Warning Letter for Poor Employee Performance

How a Write a Warning Letter for Employee Conduct: Who Should Write the Letter?

Whoever writes the warning letter, and they are often ghostwritten by a human resources specialist, the letter itself should come from the employee's direct supervisor. However, "the actual decision to formally write [the letter] up might involve more levels of the organization," Williams says. "The direct supervisor may actually be too close to the situation to see some of the structural or supervisory factors that may be influencing an employee's behavior." When multiple people at the managerial level consult about an employee's situation, they can bring more nuanced insights to bear on factors inside and outside of the organization that might be causing the problem.

As for whether to consult a lawyer when crafting a warning letter, in most cases it's a good belt-and-suspenders measure if you can afford it, but some experts say it's unnecessary. Instead, the time to consult a lawyer is when you are first putting your disciplinary policy in place.

In certain circumstances, however, getting the input of an attorney can be crucial. When you encounter situations that are completely outside of your ken, or need to be handled delicately because of a confluence of factors, it's time to get your general counsel on the horn. For example, Reed says that if the employee in question recently "made complaints of racial or gender discrimination, yet the behavior or performance problem does exist, it's a good idea to talk to an attorney about how you might approach that person."

Kane notes that another reason to consult an attorney is "if you have reason to believe that there's some legal defect in what you're asking [your employees] to do." This is not to say you're asking them to do something illegal, but maybe you have a stringent policy that others might find unreasonable, Kane gives the example of a Hooters franchise having an unwritten expectation that the wait staff behave in a coquettish manner. The lawyer will sit down with you and say, "'gee, let's see if we can figure out a way to defend your potentially goofy policy," Kane says.

Dig Deeper: Should Your Lawyer Specialize in Entrepreneurship?

How a Write a Warning Letter for Employee Conduct: Document Everything

Documenting your written communiqués is simple enough (just start a file and print duplicates of everything), but keeping track of your verbal communications can be a chore. Still, it can be useful both for reminding an employee of what you've already told them and when, and for protecting you in the event of a lawsuit down the road.

Once you're at the stage of issuing a warning letter, you may want to ask the employee to sign somewhere on the document to confirm that they received it and to verify that they understand and agree to conditions they must meet. Some employees are resistant to that idea but Kane suggests that "if they say they won't sign it, then the smart thing to say is 'okay, would you mind writing something that says I refuse to sign?' and oftentimes they'll say yes."

Dig Deeper: How to Write a Termination Notice

How a Write a Warning Letter for Employee Conduct: What it Should Contain

There are three main components of the body of a warning letter to an employee. First you need to outline the prior conduct that was unacceptable then you need to identify, by contrast, the required or expected conduct. "Lastly," says Kane, "and this is what's most often left out, is the consequences of a failure to follow that prescribed or proscribed behavior." Reed notes that it's important to be as specific as possible both in the text of the warning letter and in the verbal communications that lead up to it. That way, there is as little room as possible for misinterpretation.

The tone of the warning letter can also vary dramatically depending on the severity of the infraction the employee has committed. At the two extremes, you can either create "a formal letter that's really designed to open the door for improving the employee's performance," says Williams, or one "that's really just documenting the reasons why you've got to let them go."

Dig Deeper: A Sample Behavioral Change Warning

How a Write a Warning Letter for Employee Conduct: How to Deliver It

Once you've written the warning letter, the most difficult task is still ahead of you. It's not the kind of thing you can just leave on an employee's desk or shoot to them in an e-mail. It has to be accompanied by an in-person conversation. This conversation is also a good point of reference for the employee in case "you worded the letter more harshly or more leniently than you intended to," Williams says. If you have a virtual employee, follow up on the written or electronic copy of the letter with a phone call or video chat.

Since small businesses often have closely-knit workforces with almost familial bonds, it can be uncomfortable for an employer to confront an employee about their behavior, which sometimes leads the manager or CEO to postpone the conversation until the conduct becomes intolerable. At that point, the supervisor's anger and frustration will likely come across in-person or in a letter, which is counterproductive. Responding to developing problems quickly and role-playing the conversation with a fellow supervisor or manager before reaching out to the employee can help you avoid such an outcome.

Even if you keep your temper in check, it is easy to accidentally humiliate the employee if you don't consider their need for privacy in the matter. Holding the conversation privately and holding it without the person's co-workers knowing are too separate things, but if you exercise discretion and communicate via e-mail that you need to speak with the employee, you can keep the situation under wraps.

Finally Williams suggests that you could soften the blow of the warning letter with positive feedback but that you shouldn't do so at the expense of clarity. "I think that it's very import to stress the positive, but at the point where you're writing a letter and you're thinking of firing the person, you have to make sure that you're not including the positive to make it easier for yourself," she says.

Dig Deeper: How to Communicate in a Crisis


How a Write a Warning Letter for Employee Conduct: Being Consistent

An important component of warning an employee that they need improvement is being consistent over time. You will begin to look foolish very quickly, and possibly even weather lawsuits, if you criticize one employee for his or her lateness and not another.

In addition to drawing on your policies and precedents in your company's history, one way to be more consistent is to have standard templates for documenting problems as they develop. The consistency must encompass not just the documentation, or even the warning letter itself, but the follow up actions you take. "If you say, 'one more time and I'm going to fire you,' and you don't, then you're in trouble," Kane says. You could very well lose your authority not just in the eyes of the employee you're attempting to penalize but in front of the rest of your staff.

Dig Deeper: How to Handle Employee Complaints

How a Write a Warning Letter for Employee Conduct: Following Up

Whether your employee responds positively or negatively to your warning letter can depend largely on how you handle the situation. If you've handled it well, then the desired behavior will begin to manifest in the coming days and weeks after your conversation. However, if you've let your anger or frustration with the employee seep into the tone of your written and verbal communications, they can respond with withdrawal behaviors – often characterized by a lowered desire to complete their work.

Another possible response is that the employee will feel personally slighted, and he or she might even want to take revenge of some kind. Of course the primary indicator that the warning letter has been a failure is that there is no behavioral change on the part of the employee.

If the employee responds well to the warning letter and changes their behavior, be sure to follow up with positive feedback for their efforts to change their conduct. If the employee reacts poorly to the warning letter you need to decide if it's because you handled the situation badly or because they simply do not want to accommodate the rules you laid out for them.

If the latter situation is the case, you want that employee out of your company as soon as possible so that they do not cause further problems. But if the former is the case and you were overly harsh in meting out your criticism, Williams says: "I don't think you can underplay the value of an apology. You can sit down and say 'I really communicated this in a way I didn't intend and I really value you as an employee.'"

Dig Deeper: How to Improve Employee Retention

A written reprimand generally is part of a progressive discipline policy. For an employee, it serves as a warning to improve her performance.

Sample Letter of Reprimand

letters of reprimand for employees

Part of a manager's job is to discipline employees who fail to follow the rules. While a simple verbal warning will suffice for first-time, minor infractions, more serious or repeat infractions call for a documented, written warning. This will help to not only explain to the employee what he did wrong and what is expected of him but also allow you to keep a copy of the warning for the employee's file, which may be useful later on. Writing such a warning may seem like a daunting task, but with a written warning template, the process can actually be fairly simple.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

A written warning should follow a standard template and include information such as which rules were broken, a detailed description of the offense and how the employee needs to improve.

Why Use a Written Warning

A written warning can be useful for both the employee and the company. For the employee, the warning can provide clear guidance and instructions on what the company expects from her and how to improve her job performance to avoid further warnings. For the company, the written warning can help prove that action was taken so further steps can be taken if the problem continues. It also serves as documentation of the problem in case the employee files some sort of legal dispute later on, such as a wrongful termination case.

When to Use These Warnings

Every business will have different problems with different employees based on the company's own rules and the type of people working there. That being said, the most common reason employees are written up across all industries is excessive tardiness.

Usually a warning letter to an employee is issued after a verbal warning has been given, but this isn't always the case. If a serious one-time offense occurred, it makes sense to bypass a verbal warning and immediately have a written warning that can go in the employee's file. It is worth noting that all verbal warnings should be documented after the fact, including the time and date of the warning, and these should be entered in the employee file so there is no confusion as to whether the employee has or has not been warned about a particular problem.

Using a Letter of Reprimand

It's a good idea to look up templates for both a written warning and an employee discipline letter before you need them. These should be customized for your company and prepared for use before you actually write up an employee. Each employee who receives a warning or discipline notice should receive the same form filled out with information relevant to the specific problem being documented. This will ensure all employees are treated fairly and equally.

Always fill in every blank on a preprinted warning form letter. If something doesn't apply, you can write "N/A" so it is clear that it was not applicable and that you weren't being negligent in filling out the form. If you actually write a letter using a template, you do not need to do this but still write the letter thoroughly with as much detail as possible. Taking these steps can protect you if legal problems arise later. For this reason, always use formal language and avoid using shorthand or jargon.

While you should work with a template, the specific tone used in a letter of reprimand should vary based on the severity of the infraction. If the employee was late a few times, for example, you may simply focus on correcting the behavior and set a more positive tone to encourage him to show up on time. If an employee curses at a customer, though, you might want to have a much more serious tone that focuses on potential penalties should he err again.

Give the letter to the employee in person, not via email and not by just leaving it on the employee's desk. You may choose to have a witness present or not, but do not handle the matter publicly in front of the rest of the staff. This can be difficult and uncomfortable, but it is important to do. It can actually be beneficial to talk to the employee about the situation, though, as she may believe the letter sounds more or less strict than you intended it to be, and even your presence can help emphasize the tone you intended to take in the letter. You may soften the blow of the letter by offering the employee some positive feedback but never do so if it causes any confusion about the severity of the warning you are issuing.

Always get a signature from the employee while you are present. If he refuses to sign it, ask him to sign a letter stating that he refused to sign the warning. Keep the signed copy for the employee's record. If the employee signed a letter stating that he refuses to sign the warning, staple this to the letter. Also provide a copy to the employee for his records.

Employee Write-Up Example

A written warning letter should start out with the basic formalities, such as the subject, date, time, your name, your job title, the employee's name and job title and the names of any other people receiving a copy of the memo. You may want to include your company's logo at the top of the form, but this is optional.

If you have an employee handbook, you should first state what part of the company policy was violated. You can either write out the specific policy or simply include a reference to the relevant section of the handbook. If you do not have a handbook, then simply write a brief summary of the company rules that apply.

Include whether this is the first or final warning, and if it is a serious infraction, make note of this as well. The warning should have a time frame, meaning that if enough time passes, the warning will be removed from the employee's record and not count as a prior warning. In other words, a previous written warning about tardiness shouldn't count against the employee if she starts to come in late three years later. The letter should still remain in the employee's personnel file for reference, though. Generally, a first-time warning should last six months, a serious offense should last eight months and a final warning should last one year, but this can vary according to your company's policies.

Next, describe exactly what happened in as much detail as possible, including the date, time and names of all people involved. Do not include subjective details like saying that the employee was mean to another employee. Instead, spell out exactly what the employee did that could be interpreted as being mean. You may choose to write your description of the events, the employee's description of the events and any witness descriptions of the events if these accounts vary. If you use a preprinted form and there is not enough space to write all relevant details, it is OK to attach a second piece of paper if necessary.

To help the employee improve, follow the details of what happened with how the employee's behavior needs to change and how soon she should make such changes. Follow this up with clearly detailed information on what consequences will result if she fails to correct her behavior. Remember that the written warning is not a disciplinary action, so be sure to state what disciplinary actions will occur should the problem continue. Finally, sign and date the letter, present it to the employee and ask her and any witnesses to the meeting to also sign and date it.

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letters of reprimand for employees




Re: Written Reprimand for Attendance

This is an official written reprimand for your failure to perform the required functions of your position by attending work on time and as scheduled. You have arrived more than 15 minutes late for work on four occasions in the past two weeks.

Since timely attendance is a significant factor in serving our customers in your customer service role, this attendance is unacceptable. Phone coverage is scheduled to provide optimum service to customers.

When you arrive late for your shift, we are forced to ask another employee to cover for you. This entails both an inconvenience for your co-worker, disrespect for their schedule, and the creation of overtime expenses for your employer.

You have received verbal counseling and a verbal warning for your earlier tardy and absenteeism problems on several occasions. The verbal counseling is not having the impact that we had expected since your attendance on time is not improving.

Consequently, this written reprimand is reminding you of the critical importance of your attending work on time and as scheduled. Attendance at work, on time and as scheduled, is a core requirement of your job description.

Continuing attendance problems will result in further disciplinary action up to and including employment termination.

A copy of this written reprimand will be placed in your official personnel file where you will also have the opportunity to offer a response that we can attach to this written reprimand.


Supervisor Name:


Notice to Employee: This form is being used to document the performance I, the undersigned, do hereby acknowledge taking delivery of this written reprimand.

Types of Reprimand Memos

letters of reprimand for employees

February 27, 2008


Ms. Rebecca Jones
Financial Aid


Dear Ms. Jones:

This letter will serve as an official letter of reprimand and confirms our recent discussion of the February 26, 2008 incident.

On that date, shortly after lunch, I returned to the office to find you speaking in a highly excited state and using profanity in a telephone conversation.  As I entered the office I heard you say “I don’t care who the  you think you are, I am not helping you now!”  You subsequently hung up the phone with great force and ran toward the rest room.  When I attempted to discuss the situation with you, you stated it was personal and you were sorry it happened.

Our President then received a letter from State Representative Pamela Grafton, who stated that she had received discourteous treatment in her quest for information for a constituent.  She specifically referenced a phone call to our office on February 19th at approximately 1:15 p.m.  In a meeting with you and your union steward, Bob Holstein, you acknowledged being the party involved in the phone call.  You said your anger was provoked by her manner and her insistence that you drop everything to assist her.

We do not agree that your anger was justified.  Your position as a receptionist requires heavy public contact and you are often the first introduction anyone has to our Department or indeed to the University.  You have known this to be an essential part of your function since you began 3 years ago and you have had the Telephone Company’s course in Telephone Courtesy.  Moreover, the information that Representative Grafton requested is routinely available and there were other staff members in the office that could have assisted her if you found it difficult.

Finally, I am extremely concerned that when I initially asked you about it, you misrepresented the fact that it was indeed a business call.  This precluded any effort we might have made to correct this situation and impacts the trust relationship we have had in the past.

Please be advised that our expectation is that a professional and helping manner will be maintained at all times.  If factors in your personal life are impacting on your work performance I would urge you to consider the confidential resources of the Employees Assistance Program.

You should also be aware that additional incidents of this kind will be cause for more severe disciplinary action, up to and including, suspension and dismissal.  This may also be reflected in a less than good evaluation with specific reference to “quality of work” and/or “cooperation” if an additional incident occurs.

A copy of this letter will be placed in your Personnel file.  Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions concerning this issue.



Barbara Wishmeyer


cc:  Personnel file
Labor Relations
Union (note: NP-2 only)


I have received the original of this letter:


__________________________________              ____________
Employee’s or Representative’s Signature                  Date

Notice to Employee: This form is being used to document the performance I, the undersigned, do hereby acknowledge taking delivery of this written reprimand.

letters of reprimand for employees
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