How to Write an Effective Employee Warning Notice (With Template)

October 09, 2023 by Rebecca Ahn

How to Write an Employee Warning Notice (With Template)

Things at work can sometimes get out of line. An employee may come in late, leave early, take frequent breaks, make numerous personal calls during their shift, or otherwise neglect their assigned work. This can cause them to fall short of their KPIs and team contributions, and ultimately lead to an uncomfortable–or even more tenuous–office environment. 

What should you do when this kind of behavior becomes intolerable? What steps do you need to take to ensure this poor conduct or performance doesn’t continue? 

It’s helpful to address these types of concerns early whenever possible in the hopes of resolving them swiftly and agreeably. If you have the opportunity, you can bring them up with the employee directly in everyday interactions or one-on-one meetings. It’s also a good idea to include any such problems or misconduct in your performance review process. 

However, if an employee’s behavior spirals out of control to the extent that it begins significantly impacting your organization’s activities and/or healthy work environment, it’s time for an employee warning notice. Written warning letters usually indicate a more formal and serious form of reprimand than verbal warnings. (Though as an HR professional, it’s always good to keep a written record of any relevant discussions, written or verbal, to avoid making any mistakes that could negatively impact the company.)

Download Our Employee Warning Notice Template

So how and when do you employ the employee warning notice? In this article, we’ll cover all the information, procedures, and tips you need to write and deliver your employee warning notice, including the following: 

  • When you need an employee warning notice
  • How to write an employee warning notice form
  • How to deliver a warning notice to employees
  • Important employee discipline legalities to keep in mind

When Is the Right Time to Write an Employee Warning Notice?

First thing’s first. Let’s begin by going over when such an employee warning notice letter is necessary.

Every company handles employee discipline differently. Depending on the severity of the employee’s infraction, the measures taken by the employer and HR professionals vary. Nevertheless, there is a conventional warning procedure for employee discipline that pays attention to employee rights and keeps to an appropriate timeline.

The first disciplinary warning employers and HR professionals should give is a verbal warning notice. If there is no change in the employee’s behavior, the employer moves on to issuing a warning letter and finally to termination of employment.

However, if the employee has committed a serious form of misconduct, the employer has the right to skip verbal warning and proceed to a written warning letter as the first reprimanding action. But in any case, giving employees regular feedback and performance reviews is important and foreshadows future written warning notices.

The takeaway here is that a written warning is typically the second warning. If someone is simply getting off track, not performing their tasks correctly or some other small form of misconduct, don’t jump right to the written warning, which is taken more seriously because many employees already know that a write-up is a step closer to termination. So, make sure the warning/discipline aligns with the misconduct.

Employee Warning Notice Example Situations

Let’s explore this a little further. An employee’s poor performance at work can have various negative effects on an organization. Here are some examples of strong signals that an employee’s conduct is having a detrimental effect for business:

  • Cut in product quality
  • Decrease in customer satisfaction
  • Lower commercial success
  • Toxic work environment
  • Damaging representation of your brand
  • Poor internal and external communication
  • Repeated absenteeism
  • Expressed concerns from other employees

In such cases, it’s expected that an employer or HR professional will issue an employee warning letter. This warning notice will let the employee know just how serious you are about employee discipline and the measures that will follow if they ignore the warning letter.

Basically, the letter is a way to seriously let your employee know that they need to change their actions. Warnings are meant to stop the behavior before it gets too out of hand.

What to Do First to Prepare Your Employee Warning Notice

Now that you’ve determined that a warning notice letter is necessary for your situation with the employee, let’s go over how to actually put it together. Employee warning letters are typically written by HR professionals in consultation with direct supervisors of the employee in question. This is important because, as an HR professional, you will be familiar with the applicable laws and employee rights that may affect the validity and content of the employee warning letter. 

There are also a few key steps you’ll want to follow as you prepare and compose your employee warning notice. Make sure you follow each of these helpful dos and don’ts to ensure a smooth warning process. 

Have a Consistent Employee Disciplinary Policy

Long before any situations like these can arise with your employees, ideally as early as the inception of your organization’s HR, it is vital that you establish an employee disciplinary action policy for any performance and behavior issues that might lead to disciplinary action, and what actions you might take in response.  

This should include specific processes to follow in such disciplinary situations with an employee, including when and how warnings will be delivered, meetings will be conducted, performance improvement plans (PIPs) may be employed, and when disciplinary terminations or other outcomes may result. 

Your employee disciplinary policy needs to be legally ironclad and standardized across your organization. This means that the same rules apply to everyone in the company, which will ensure full transparency and fairness across all departments and employees. This also provides your organization with clear legal protection in all employee disciplinary procedures. Of course, make sure you consult with your legal counsel when drawing up and executing any employee disciplinary policy to ensure you comply with all applicable federal, state, and local laws. 

Investigate All the Details Surrounding the Misconduct

Before you move forward with any employee disciplinary actions and write up an employee warning notice, you should make sure you have all of the details in check. It’s important to follow a thorough and fair HR investigation process to ensure you are fully informed on the what, why, when, and how surrounding the misconduct or employee issue in question. 

This should also be outlined in your employee disciplinary policy and is essential to help you prepare as detailed and accurate an employee warning notice letter as possible.

Speak to the Employee Privately

Remember, it’s a good idea to address these disciplinary issues early. As part of your standard employee disciplinary policy, include a step to speak to the employee privately early in the process. 

This may clear up any misunderstandings about the incident for which the employee is being reprimanded for. You may even find that there is a justified reason for the employee’s actions and avoid writing an employee warning notice altogether.

Of course, you will still want to make sure you document what takes place in this private conversation, for reference as well as corroboration in the event any further action is needed. 

Provide an Initial Verbal Warning

Whether in a private conversation, as described above, or other form of communication, it is important to provide the employee with an early verbal warning, before any written warning notice is delivered. This initial verbal notification is vital to this employee warning process to ensure a fair and transparent process for all involved. 

Make sure this step is also included in your employee disciplinary process, and is taken whenever possible prior to a written warning. Only in extreme cases of misconduct would the employer and HR professionals issue a written employee warning letter without prior verbal notice.

How to Write a Warning Notice to Your Employee

When you’re ready to start writing your employee warning notice, it’s a good idea to follow a sample letter, like our employee warning notice template, to ensure you insert all the key pieces of information. 

So let’s take each section of a typical employee warning notice form one by one, and walk through how to fill out an employee warning notice from beginning to end.

Section 1: Explain the Reason for the Letter

Start your employee warning notice by clearly and meticulously communicating the problem and the reason for the issuance of a written warning letter, including the employee performance or behavior issues of concern. 

You need to be as specific as possible to avoid any confusion or miscommunication. Outline all of the details discovered in your investigation process, including the dates, descriptions, and witnesses of any relevant incidents. 

It’s also important to make it clear from the beginning of the letter that this is an official written employee warning notice. If the type of misconduct is listed in any company policy, including the employee disciplinary policy we discussed earlier, make sure you reference that as well.

Section 2: Outline the Resulting Actions for the Employee

Next you’ll want to use the body of the employee warning letter to 

In the following paragraph, you need to explain the disciplinary actions required from the employee to correct the issues in question. Again, make sure to be as specific as possible here. If there is a set period of time in which the changes should be implemented, specify that. 

Subsequently, this is also the place to outline what disciplinary actions will follow if the employee fails to take the specified corrective action. This should be the part of your employee disciplinary process that would follow an employee warning notice. 

For example, will there be a final employee warning letter, suspension, or immediate termination of employment if the employee fails to make the necessary changes and improvements? Be as specific and transparent as possible. 

Section 3: Offer a Process for the Employee to Respond

Next you will continue your warning notice letter by explaining the appeals process to the employee. This includes the specific steps the employee should take should they wish to dispute the allegations or disciplinary actions outlined in the warning notice. 

This should also be a standardized process outlined in your employee disciplinary policy, including how the employee must file their appeal and within what timeline following receipt of their employee warning notice letter. Make sure all of these details are included in this section of your warning notice letter, or referenced from your company employee disciplinary policy.

If the employee does file an appeal according to your company policy, they will need to include any records or documentation to support their rebuttal. Then an appeal hearing should be held to examine all of the evidence and make a final decision, all of which should be documented as well. 

Section 4: How to Close an Employee Warning Notice

Lastly, you will want to get the employee to sign the warning notice letter to acknowledge its receipt. So the end of an employee warning notice letter should always contain a line for the employee to sign and acknowledge receipt of the warning. Leave a clear space for the name, date, and signatures from both the employee and HR representative at the end of your employee warning notice form. 

Above the signature line, include verbiage that expressly states this is an acknowledgement of receipt of the warning notice, and does not constitute an admission of the disciplined actions in question. However, you should also convey that refusal to sign can, and will, result in termination of employment. 

If the employee does refuse to sign, you will need to get a higher-level staff member to help you witness this refusal and sign on the employee’s behalf to confirm their receipt of the warning letter. 

How to Conduct an Employee Warning Notice Meeting

Once your employee warning notice letter is written, reviewed by legal counsel, and ready to deliver, it’s important to handle the delivery to the employee as thoughtfully and thoroughly as possible.

Once again, make sure to follow these steps of what you shouldn’t and shouldn’t do when delivering an employee warning notice letter. 

Meet with the Employee Privately

Once again, you’ll want to ensure the meeting in which you deliver the employee warning notice is private as well. This should include both the employee and a representative of the employer, such as the employee’s supervisor, who is fully knowledgeable of the situation. Then, of course, you or another HR representative will need to be present to lead and mediate the meeting. 

Remember, privacy is essential to preserve trust, legally protect both the employee and employer, and ensure as productive a discussion as possible. Be sure to conduct the meeting in a manner that allows all parties to feel heard. 

Deliver the Written Warning as Soon as an Incident Occurs

Time is of the essence in situations like this. A prompt response from an employer is crucial for effective employee discipline. The longer you wait to take disciplinary action, the more time it will take to rectify damages, and the lower the chances of an agreeable resolution for all involved. 

Similarly, waiting too long following any employee violation of company policy runs the risk of lessening the severity or degree of fault, which may diminish validity and make it more difficult to address the situation in a satisfactory manner. 

State That It is a Written Warning Letter

When delivering the employee warning letter, it is vital that you refer to it as an official written employee warning notice. Failure to do so may cause the warning notice to be disregarded and deemed void in the event that any future measures need to be taken. 

So make sure you follow your company employee disciplinary policy to the letter, including all proper legal protocol and verbiage, and consult with your legal counsel at every step of the way. 

Get the Employee to Sign the Employee Warning Notice

The employee needs to confirm they have received and understood the disciplinary action and accept the consequences if they fail to redeem themselves. This is vital, even if they disagree with the reason for the warning notice. 

Make it clear that the employee’s signature is a legal acknowledgment of their receipt of the employee warning notice, and not necessarily an agreement about the situation detailed therein. As we mentioned earlier, refusal to sign this employee warning notice can constitute grounds for termination. 

If the employee still refuses to sign, you can consider this a form of employee misconduct and document the refusal with a witness present. Print the employee’s name and write in “employee refused to sign acknowledgment.” Then you and another senior-level staff member will need to sign and date the warning notice to witness this fact. 

Understanding the Restrictions of Employee Discipline

Employee discipline is all about creating a work environment that is safe, pleasant and productive–for everyone. Typically, employers decide when and how employee discipline should be exercised. However, sometimes there may be legal issues that can obstruct the employee disciplinary process. You may be subject to legal risks in the following instances: 

  • Your company policy doesn’t clearly explain the employee disciplinary process to the employees.
  • Employees are unaware of what is and isn’t acceptable under company policy.
  • Your employee disciplinary process lacks consistency.
  • Managers and supervisors show favoritism.
  • The employee disciplinary process is initiated on unwarranted grounds.
  • There is no evidence to support employee misconduct.

As always, you can help avoid any potential legal issues by first speaking with your legal counsel about your company policy before you decide to take any disciplinary action with your employees. 

Employee Warning Notice: Key Takeaways

Writing and delivering an employee warning notice can be an effective way to discipline an employee who is falling short of their expected work performance or behavior. But the situation can vary from case to case. 

That’s why it’s important that you follow all of the proper steps we’ve outlined here in every situation to investigate thoroughly, maintain privacy, cover your legal bases, and deliver a well-written employee warning notice to ensure as fair and transparent a process as possible. Always make sure to have a clear and comprehensive employee disciplinary policy in place, and consult with your legal team throughout the entire process. 

Remember, if the situation with your disciplined employee leads to termination, make sure you understand the difference between a layoff and a firing, and follow the proper steps with your organization’s termination policy. It may also make sense to think about offering outplacement services or other support for your terminated employee, depending on the situation. 

Want to learn more about how to warn employees? Check out our employee warning template here:

Download Our Employee Warning Notice Template

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Rebecca Ahn

Rebecca Ahn

Rebecca is a writer, editor, and business consultant with over 10 years of experience launching, managing, and coaching small to midsize companies on their business, marketing, and HR operations. She is a passionate people advocate who believes in building strong people, teams, and companies with empowering culture, content, and communication that facilitates meaningful results at every level and touchpoint. In her spare time, Rebecca is an avid traveler and nomad who also enjoys writing about travel safety and savvy. Learn more on her LinkedIn page.

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