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.


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.