When to Use a Formal Warning Letter

Are you wondering when to write a formal warning letter?

What is a Formal Warning Letter?

a yellow and black warning sign on a forest road
Photo by Muhammad Daudy on Unsplash

A warning letter is an official cautionary document sent by the HR staff and the HR manager. This letter reminds employees of misconduct and details of consequences that may follow if the employee fails to improve themselves.

The letter describes the employee’s wrongdoing, such as failing to follow company policies, unprofessional behavior, or tardiness. 

An employee receives a warning that stays in their file for future reference. Performance or misconduct issues can be addressed, as well as taking action on what the employee needs to improve.

It is only a step in dealing with performance issues. An employee’s written warning should not come as a surprise.

You should flag problems during regular one-on-one meetings, and written warnings should take place after other methods have been fruitless.

When to Issue a Warning Letter?

If an employee doesn’t improve, a written warning follows spoken warnings.

In the workplace, warnings are common examples of progressive discipline. On many occasions, companies begin with unofficial warnings and move on to written warnings.

The employee should be advised that they aren’t meeting the expectations of their role before issuing a written warning. While this isn’t written, you should describe the areas where performance is below average.

You should keep a management note or email after a verbal discussion to make sure everything was clearly explained. Thus, you will ensure that you have a written record of what you have discussed with others.

If verbal warnings do not generate any changes, you may want to move to the formal written warning.

How to Write a Formal Warning Letter?

The warning letter does not have a fixed format. However, it should include a couple of key information:

  • Include a detailed description of the areas where your employee is underperforming and always provide examples of how it is doing
  • Include the warning letter’s number
  • Send an action plan to your employee and notify them of the dates you will check in with them.
  • Inform the disciplinary committee of the employee’s actions.
  • Make it clear that another written warning could be issued or employment termination would be imminent.
  • Make sure your employee understands the warning is confidential.

What’s the Maximum Number of Letters Before Termination?

Employer’s own policies determine how many warnings are given and how many before termination. You might give one verbal warning before moving on to a written warning.

Employers often use the three strikes method to fire employees, but you may choose to do this depending on the situation. There may be instances in which infractions are serious enough to skip warnings and fire the employee immediately.

In most cases, the warnings serve as a guarantee against an unfair dismissal lawsuit by the employee in the future.

To Wrap Up

In order to let employees know the severity of their behavior, a written warning can be helpful. Lastly, it can protect against wrongful termination lawsuits, should the situation escalate.

When drafting a warning memo, document the incident in meticulous detail and obtain signatures. Keep an eye on the tone you use and understand your real reasons for writing the memo. An effective written warning can help employees get back on track.

Pam is an expert grammarian with years of experience teaching English, writing and ESL Grammar courses at the university level. She is enamored with all things language and fascinated with how we use words to shape our world.

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