Issuing A 1st Written Warning Letter To An Employee

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Being prepared when the time comes to issue an employee’s 1st written warning letter is extremely important to any manager. Yes, one of the most frustrating things a supervisor faces is when an employee’s behavior gets to a point, they have to issue formal discipline. The best way to be prepare for that is to develop a formal progressive discipline plan (Download my Free Employee Handbook for a Good Progressive Discipline Plan) and make sure all your employees know what it is prior to having to implement it when an employee displays poor behavior.

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First Step Prior to Issuing a 1st Written Warning Letter

Part of any good progressive discipline plan is to outline what an employee can expect if they display poor behavior in the workplace. Some examples of poor behavior would be:

  • Tardiness
  • Poor Attendance
  • Not Following the Directions of Their Supervisor - Insubordination
  • Fighting
  • Theft
  • Sleeping
  • Disrespectful Behavior
  • Intoxication or Under the Influence
  • Safety Violations

This list could be longer, but I hope you get the point. The behaviors above include some less severe ones, as well as, some pretty major violations. As an example, someone that is stealing in my opinion would be terminated immediately. On the other hand, someone that is tardy could be disciplined to help them understand that if their behavior continues it could cost them their job.

Counseling versus 1st Written Warning

My recommendation is that on any minor first offense, such as being tardy, should be addressed with a written counseling or a documented verbal warning. Both should be placed in the employee’s personnel file and maybe discarded/remove after six months or so if there are no further violations.

However, if there are further violations for any poor behavior the counseling or documented verbal warning would be used to solidify the company’s attempt to have warned the employee in previous employment actions that their behavior was in question. The counseling and/or documented verbal warning would be reference in your 1st written warning letter to the employee. As an example:

  • This 1st written warning letter is being issued for tardiness.
  • Specifically, you were tardy three times in the past four weeks and received a formal counseling letter on October 15, 2021, outlining the dates and times you were tardy. Since being issued that formal counseling letter you were tardy twelve minutes again on October 21, 2021.
  • Our Employee Policy Manual covers our attendance policy and you signed acknowledging you received a copy of that policy on January 6, 2019.

The written warning could go on to say what will happen if the employee violates another work rule, up to and including termination. However, the goal of discipline should not be to go from zero to termination unless the violations is severe, such as for stealing, like I mentioned earlier. Since the cost of hiring and training an employee is expensive, the goal of discipline should always be to correct/change poor behavior and not to punish.

Remember, although you can’t announce you have taken action against the employee when they do something wrong, I am certain they will let everyone know themselves. It is human nature for that employee to reach out to another fellow employee who will spill the beans to someone else, etc. This ensures that everyone knows the poor behavior will not be tolerated.

Also, make sure you take equal action for the same or similar violations no matter how good or bad the employee is. This will get you in big trouble if the employee files an unlawful work practice or termination. Especially, if the employee is in a protected class, such as, race, religion, sex, age, etc.

Thank you and good luck and may God bless you.

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