Sometimes, a valuable employee turns into a lazy one. They go from exceeding their KPIs to turning up to work 30 minutes late, or committing other minor misconduct. What should you do to discipline an employee? Are warning letters the only choice?
If you have already given them a verbal warning, a warning letter could be the answer. The aim is to tell the employee how their misconduct has negatively affected their work and the company as a whole.
If an employee commits a serious one-time offence, it is advisable to skip the verbal warning and straight to warning letters as you will want written proof that can go in the employee's file.
What is a Warning Letter?
A warning letter is a formal cautionary document that is sent by the HR staff, particularly the HR manager, to the employee to inform them of misconduct and details of consequences that come if the employee fails to improve themselves.
Here are the steps to prepare a warning letter for the next time you have a disciplinary situation:
Writing the letter
Remember, this is an official letter, therefore, you should carefully abide by some formatting guidelines to ensure that the information is clearly displayed in a professional manner.
The letter should follow this structure:
- Recipient's address: This appears a line or two below the sender's address, aligned to the left of the letter.
- Date: Write the official date of the letter a line or two below the recipient's address.
- Subject Line: The subject of your letter should be clear and concise. For example, 'Warning Letter for Employee Name', followed by the reason for the reprimand.
- Salutation: You should follow a formal salutation such as 'Dear Mr. Ali'.
- Opening paragraph: Get straight to the point of the warning letter. List the problem clearly and meticulously, as well as the reason for issuing the letter. Include specific details within the first sentence. For example, if the event happened on a specific day, or if it is following a verbal warning that was carried out, it is advisable to date it.
- Body: Explain the action that's needed to correct the issue. For example, if you're implementing a correctional training scheme, list the specific details, along with the timeframe that will be given for improvement.
- Final paragraph: Advice what disciplinary action should follow. For example, if the next step is the termination of employment, you need to write it clearly in this paragraph. This will protect your company against any legal disputes, ensuring you have given the employee ample time for improvements.
- Closing: Conclude your letter on a positive note, showing that you believe there is enough time for the employee to improve. For instance, specify that you believe that they are a 'valuable asset to the organisation'.
- Your name & signature: Since you will need a written copy, opt for a handwritten signature. Leave some space for the employee's signature at the bottom of the draft.
What you should do when writing the letter
1. Speak to the employee privately
Remember that this should be a private matter between you and the employee. Carry out this conversation in an office setting. It's vital to also speak to the employee before delivering the warning note so it won't shock them.
2. Deliver the warning note as soon as the incident occurs
Issue the warning note and take effective measures as soon as the event takes place. The employee will take you seriously. Waiting will diminish the severity of the warning and can take longer to rectify any damages.
3. Reinforce what the consequences are in the draft
You might have verbally informed the employee about the consequences, but reiterate them if the employee failed to improve.
4. Asking for the employee's signature
You do not need the employee's signature, but it's better if they provide one as it confirms that they have acknowledged the warning and understand what happens if they fail to redeem themselves. If they decline to sign it, you can gain proof of receipt by attaching the letter to an email and sending that across.
5. Keep it objective and factual
It's important to keep emotions out of difficult conversations. You don't want the employee to feel personally offended; list the facts and figures are more useful. The employee can get emotional, but you should remain calm.
6. Proofread the letter
Ask an HR colleague to double-check the letter just in case if you made any mistakes.
7. Consider seeking legal advice
If you are sceptical about the legalities of the disciplinary action, you should talk to a lawyer or an HR expert who will guide you through the procedure.
If you are having difficulties, you can select a warning letter template from the samples provided below:
Samples: Warning Letter Template
National Human Resource Centre (NHRC) Warning Letter Template
Warning Letter for Poor Performance
Warning Letter after Disciplinary Inquiry
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