Final written warnings in the workplace are part of the disciplinary procedure.

You might hand out a disciplinary warning because an employee’s performance is poor or they have conducted themselves in an unprofessional way. This includes minor misconduct and gross misconduct.

If your employee fails to improve while the warning is active on their record, the consequences could be:

  • Demotion.
  • Transfer to another part of the business.
  • Dismissal.

Final written warning law

Before we look at how to issue a final written warning letter to employees, let’s go through the other steps to make sure you are fair, clear and consistent with your staff.

The induction for a new starter is a great time to give them the staff handbook and the written statement of terms and conditions of employment. Policies and procedures that cover conduct, performance, warnings and dismissal should be available in both of these.

When you learn that a staff member isn’t performing well, or they become the subject of a misconduct allegation, you need to investigate the matter to determine how to proceed.

For more on this, read our BrightBase guide about Gross Misconduct.

You can’t go handing out warnings just because you’re having a literal ‘bad day at the office.’ If you think that an incident warrants a formal warning, your first step should be to gather facts. You should do this with an HR representative if possible.

If you find that you have evidence to move the investigation forward, you should invite the employee to a disciplinary hearing.

It’s good practice to offer reasonable notice to your staff so that they can prepare their side of the story—remember that they might have a good reason for their bad performance or conduct.

You should make sure that you have completed training on how to conduct a hearing. An HR rep should join you in the hearing to offer legal advice and write a record of what happens.

No further action

Sometimes there isn't enough evidence to support the claims made against the employee. And so, if it is clear that there is no case to answer, you wouldn't need to take further action.

The letter of concern

This tactic is a great informal first step for managing an employee whose performance levels have been low—for example, if they have missed deadlines, given bad customer service, or produced work that is below the expected standard.

You can also use this informal method when dealing with issues of minor misconduct, such as if you spot an absence or lateness pattern with one of your staff.

The letter should set out what they need to improve, with a deadline for review by management. If you think your staff member could benefit from training, coaching or resources to read, you can tell them this in the letter.

At the end of the letter, you might also make clear what the consequences of failing to improve will be.

In many cases, this early method could be enough to sort out a problem. You could also couple it with an informal chat.

Regular review meetings with your staff will make staying on top of their progress a lot easier for you.

The first written warning at work

Okay, so your first step in addressing someone’s poor performance or minor misconduct is a letter of concern and an informal chat.

But if the problems don’t stop, you would move on and activate the formal disciplinary procedure:

  1. Establish the facts of the case.
  2. Tell the employee about the problem in writing.
  3. Invite them to a meeting (hearing) in writing.
  4. Hold the meeting to discuss the problem.
  5. Give evidence that you have collected.
  6. Allow them to explain their misconduct or performance.
  7. Allow them to have a colleague or trade union representative accompany them.
  8. Decide the appropriate course of action.
  9. Tell them what improvements need to be made, how to make them, and by when.
  10. Give them the chance to appeal.

The outcome at this stage for poor performance or misconduct could be a verbal warning or a first written warning.

If it's gross misconduct, the outcome is usually demotion, transfer to another part of the business, or dismissal. Some examples are violence, theft, and fraud.

You might issue someone a final written warning for gross misconduct.

When issuing any warning to one of your staff, you should tell them what the problem is. Tell them how they can fix it and how long they have to do so before a review.

How to issue a final written warning at work

After you give your employee their first warning, a number of scenarios can play out:

  1. They address their performance or conduct and improve before the review.
  2. They do not improve by the time of their review.
  3. Their conduct or performance gets worse and you hold another hearing.

In the first scenario, you can disregard their warning after its 'live' period has expired.

In scenarios two or three, you need to go through the hearing process again. If based on the evidence and your review, you think that they've not addressed the problem, then you can issue the next warning.

For example, failure to improve after a verbal warning could lead to a first written warning. Or from a first written warning to a final written warning.

How long does a final written warning stay on your record?

The length is often six or twelve months.

Download BrightHR's sample employee written warning

You should write to your employee to explain the outcome of their hearing.

Our Download Centre has a written warning template for attitude, conduct, or performance that includes all of the information you should mention, including what improvement you expect from them, deadlines, and their right to appeal.

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Informal Verbal Warnings at Work

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