The boss has verbally warned an employee about misconduct or poor performance, but the problems continue. The employer or manager ultimately must take the next step by issuing a formal written warning. Templates and forms for such letters are widely available, but these warnings must be tailored to the individual company and employee.
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Describe the Problem
Be precise in identifying any inappropriate conduct or poor performance and include specific dates and incidents. Simply writing “poor attitude” isn’t adequate; write detailed descriptions of the employee’s negative behavior. Refer to previous verbal discussions and warnings that have taken place about the problem, including the dates of each warning, and point out that despite these discussions, the infractions are ongoing.
Explain how the employee’s poor performance or misconduct is affecting other employees and the company as a whole. If the problem is absenteeism or tardiness, for example, explain that others must perform the employee’s job as well as their own when these incidents occur. Rude or abusive treatment of co-workers, inappropriate behavior and shirking of responsibility likewise affect company morale and must be corrected.
The letter should be a printed hard copy, not emailed. Keep the letter professional and polite, with no personal attacks.
Spell Out What You Expect
In a small company, the employee’s direct supervisor usually writes the letter. Outline clearly what the employee needs to do to correct a performance or conduct problem. The company should have a disciplinary policy in place, so the letter
can refer to policies and goals. Warn the employee firmly that failure to make immediate improvements and maintain those improvements “may result in further disciplinary action and/or termination of employment,” suggests attorney Jonathan K. Driggs on the website Payroll Experts.
The warning letter can be a genuine attempt to help an employee improve his conduct and performance or it can be documentation of the problems that will ultimately lead to dismissal.
Provide a Disclaimer
To be sure that the worker has read and understands what is expected of him, ask him to sign the letter. Because the employee may be concerned about signing such a document, the letter should include a disclaimer to the effect that signing it only acknowledges that the employee has received it and understands it but doesn’t necessarily agree with all the statements.
Should he refuse to sign, ask another employee to witness his refusal and add the statement “employee refuses to sign.” Explain that the warning is in effect even though he refuses to sign.
Allow the employee to respond to the letter if he wishes. Such a response could reveal underlying problems and even threats that could uphold a termination decision. The employer should keep a copy of the warning letter and any response, whether or not the employee remains with the company.
Employee reprimands and dismissals are areas fraught with legal peril, so allow the company attorney to read over the proposed letter for recommendations and to be sure your requests are reasonable.