Do’s and Don’ts of Writing a Warning Letter to an Employee

Issuing an employee warning letter is a common HR practice.

This method allows HR managers to discipline the staff and to make sure that all employees observe the rules written in the company policy.

In addition, a warning letter is also a way for employers to reduce legal risks when firing an employee. In this case, such a letter serves as a disciplinary measure that warns an employee about the violation of the company’s code of conduct.

With that in mind, writing a warning letter or letter of reprimand to an employee can be a delicate thing to do. There are a few things that you need to keep in mind and to avoid to make sure that you deliver the message correctly.

So, let’s take a look at a few do’s and don’ts of writing a warning letter to an employee.

DO Consider the Structure

As with any formal letter, it is important to keep the employee warning letter organized. Following this structure will help you lay out the details of the situation more consistently and will add a confident tone to the letter.

When writing an employee warning letter, you can use the following structure:

  • date of the warning
  • the subject of the warning letter
  • name of the employee
  • section with the details of the violation
  • reasons why this situation is considered a violation
  • disciplinary actions that the company will take
  • your signature

If you decide to hand over the letter to an employee with a union representative, consider adding the representative’s signature to the letter as well. Also, if not for all employee warning notices, for a more serious written warning letter, it would be recommended to issue the letter on company letterhead.

DO Go Straight to Details

After starting the warning letter with the date, subject, and the name of the employee, start your letter by describing the situation right away.

When clarifying the situation that led to this warning, keep in mind the following and include these specific details:

  • Mention the date when the situation happened. This is important to add credibility to your letter.
  • List the details briefly and clearly. Don’t use long sentences and go straight to the point.
  • Avoid excessive emotions. Maintaining a professional tone when laying out details of the situation will help you avoid conflict with the employee.

Here’s a good example that follows all the above-mentioned criteria:

Dear [Employee Name]:

Re: Written Warning

On [insert date], you failed to report for your scheduled shift at 8:00 a.m. and you did not provide your supervisor with advanced notice that you would be absent. Furthermore, when you returned to work on [insert return date], you did not provide a justifiable excuse for being absent or explain why you failed to provide prior notice to your supervisor. As discussed in the company employee handbook and as explained to your before, your failure to comply with the company’s attendance policy is unacceptable and will not be tolerated by [Company].

A review of your employment record indicates that you have failed to report to work without notice or failed to provide a justifiable reason for an absence on [number] occasions in the past [number] months alone. These absences were on [dates]. On each of those occasions, you were given verbal warnings and counseled to provide proper notice for any absence. If you fail to provide proper notice for an absence in the future, you may be subject to further discipline up to and including termination.


[Supervisor, Human Resources Manager, or Responsible Manager]

It is important to be as straightforward and specific as possible when writing a warning letter to an employee, especially if it’s not the first one, because these letters will be added to the employee personnel file and will be evidence of the history of inappropriate behavior or poor performance.

DO Include Disciplinary Actions

When writing a formal notice warning letter to an employee, ensure that it has the list of consequences that the employee will face. This is usually a short paragraph that describes further disciplinary actions that the HR department will take if the conflict proceeds.

Here’s how the description of disciplinary actions can look like:

On [date], you violated company policy as explained in the employee manual by [explain violation]. It is important that you understand that it is your responsibility to comply with company policies and failing to demonstrate that you will comply moving forward will result in further discipline up to and including termination. If you have any questions about his warning, please contact me, Human Resources, or your manager.

The employee that receives the warning letter should be aware, which consequences and actions are taken as a punishment for the disorderly behavior to keep this situation from happening in the future.

DO Allow Employees an Opportunity to Explain

Although some violations of company policies are black and white, many times they are not. When things are not back and white, giving an employee an opportunity to explain the situation regarding the violation accusation provides several benefits. The benefits of obtaining the employee’s comments include:

  • the company can ensure that the accusation is correct
  • the company can determine if there are any mitigating factors that may justifying reducing the severity of any discipline
  • allowing employees the opportunity to explain the version of events demonstrates that the company engaged in a thorough and unbiased investigation that can be used to defend against claims of discrimination, sexual or other harassment, or unemployment

DO Offer a Solution

The employee that receives a warning letter should be given a list of solutions or how to improve the conflict situation.
When writing this part, keep in mind not only the company’s interests but the interests of the employee as well. That’s why it is important to have a verbal warning first to see and understand where the employee’s actions come from, and if the situation repeats, offer a solution.

By offering solutions to the conflict situation, you avoid the hostility between the company and the employee and ensure that both sides still benefit from the situation.

DON’T Go Personal

In order to meet the goals and expectations of the employee warning letter, avoid taking a personal approach when writing it.

Adding an emotional tone to such a letter can cause deviations from its initial purpose. So, when writing a warning letter to an employee, try to focus on specific wrongdoing without attaching it to any personal feelings.

DON’T Make Baseless Claims

If you do want to add more credibility to the employee warning letter, what you can do is describe how the misconduct could harm the goals and the image of the company.

However, try to avoid making baseless claims. This means that you should support your letter using statements from witnesses and company documents.

For example, you can use excerpts from the corporate employee conduct policy to support your claims, or you can generally refer to official company documents that describe the wrongdoing in question, like here:

As indicated in the company’s employee handbook, signed by you on [date], drinking alcohol during working time is not permitted and is considered a serious violation of the company’s health and safety policy. On [date], your supervisor observed you drinking a can of beer while you were on break. If the company determines that you consume alcohol during working time in the future, the company will further discipline you up to and including termination.

Providing such proof in the warning letter also adds more credibility to your claims regarding the disciplinary actions.

DON’T Forget to Proofread

We already mentioned that every warning letter is typically added to every employee’s record. So, naturally, there should be no grammatical or punctuation mistakes.

That’s why make sure you proofread the letter after you finish the first draft. You can use online editing and proofreading tools like GrammarlyTopEssayWriting, or essay service, where people can find an author to write my research paper. You can once again use these platforms to proofread the letter after you’ve done editing the first draft.

Keep in mind that leaving out grammatical or punctuation mistakes in an employee warning letter can lead to ambiguity and misinterpretation. So, try to be as thorough with proofreading as possible.

DON’T Forget to Ask for Employee’s Signature or Follow-Up

Once you deliver the warning letter, you need a confirmation that the employee has received it.
That’s why, at the end of the letter, add a space that requires an employee to sign the letter. In case you send the letter via email, ask for a follow-up proving that the employee has seen the message.

One more important thing to remember is that your letter should encourage an employee to write a written response. An employee has the right to appeal to the warning letter. So, remind them of this option in your letter and give the necessary contact details.

Over to You

The do’s and don’ts we discussed in this article are general. While they can help you write a structured and consistent employee warning letter, you still need to follow your company’s guidelines and protocols.

With employee warning letters, it’s important to be straightforward. Keep it detail-oriented and direct, refer to corporate policies to support your claims, but keep it professional and polite to avoid unnecessary tension or potential liability. For additional warning letter templates and suggestions, Templatelab provides many to choose from.

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