Written Warning. What Is It And How to Write It. Template Included

HR professionals, as custodians of a company's most important resource-its employees, play a crucial role in the business's overall success, regardless of the industry. Conversely, they also bear the responsibility of addressing an employee's misconduct, inadequate behavior, or poor performance that leads to a decline in product quality or customer satisfaction and even a decrease in market reputation.

As an employer, HR professionals play a crucial role in addressing instances of employee misconduct, inadequate behavior, or poor performance. A written warning is a valuable tool in this process, and understanding its importance and proper use is essential for HR professionals.

In the following article, we will discover what a warning letter is, why it's essential, what this document should look like to be legal and effective, and other tips and tricks for HR professionals handling this area.



  1. Definition and importance
  2. Cases when a written warning should be issued
  3. What to include in the written warning
  4. Procedure to follow when issuing a written warning
  5. Tips for giving written warnings
  6. Do's & don'ts
  7. Consequences
  8. FAQs
  9. Templates

1. Definition and importance

A written letter is a formal document issued by an employer designed to notify the employee about any shortcomings, misconduct, poor performance, or company policy violation. Typically, a written warning is given only after an informal discussion, during which a manager or someone from HR communicates to the employee what is expected of him to correct said behavior or problem.

This document is important in terms of setting boundaries, and it speaks to the gravity of the situation.

The written warning is important for the employer because it's the perfect mechanism to keep track of the employee's issues and development, meaning progress or regress, while also serving as evidence in possible legal disputes.

On the other hand, warnings need to address the consequences for employees, which can serve as a catalyst for improvement, offering a clear path to rectify the situation and get them back on the right track.

Lastly, the act of issuing a written warning when needed not only addresses the issue at hand but also speaks volumes about the transparency and fairness of the company's culture, instilling confidence in the employees.


2. Cases when a written warning should be issued

Here are some examples of circumstances that might trigger a written warning, although you should keep in mind that every company will define them in their internal regulations and policies:

  • Continuous lateness or absenteeism
  • Violation of company policies regarding safety, health, phone or email use
  • Many types of misconduct(as addressed in internal regulations), like bullying, discrimination, or harassment
  • Unsatisfactory work quality
  • Insubordination, such as refusal to execute a task given by a manager
  • Failure to meet performance objectives

As an employer, you also need to examine the severity of the employee's behavior. When facing a high-severity misconduct, a written warning can be issued instantly. In other cases, informal talks are started, and only if those have no results do you start a disciplinary procedure, which concludes with a warning.


3. What to include in the written warning

Ensure your warning is concise and clear in every aspect to avoid leaving room for interpretation. Here is what it should include:

  • Date of the incident 
  • The manager's name and HR representatives' name
  • Employee's name and job title
  • A short reminder of the informal verbal warnings
  • Expected steps to be taken to correct the misconduct
  • Possible consequences if the employee fails to meet the expectations*
  • The right to appeal
  • Signature of both the manager and the employee
  • A follow-up date for a meeting to track the progress.

*If an employee does not match the expectations outlined in the written warning, the consequences can range from additional training or mentoring to harsher disciplinary measures, which can even result in job termination. HR professionals need to communicate these potential outcomes to the employee clearly. Description of specific internal regulations that address the time frame in which the warning is on the employee's record.


4. Procedure to follow when issuing a written warning

Every company has its specific procedures regarding warnings and disciplinary actions, and this is natural because these are sensitive matters that must be conducted transparently and lawfully. 

Here are a series of steps you should follow as an example:

Investigate the incident

Ensure you have all the facts straightened out before you draft and issue a written warning. This means combining all information about the employee's misconduct with all applicable company policies(stated in every internal document) and even statements from possible witnesses.

Write up the written warning

Start drafting the document. It should be clear and to the point; try not to be vague in any way. After describing the facts, add the steps the employee can take to improve the situation and the consequences if he doesn't. This can lead to termination.

It would be wise to ask an HR professional or a legal representative for help reviewing the draft in very sensitive cases.

Set up a meeting with the employee

The next step is to meet with the employee in a professional atmosphere, ideally in the presence of an objective third party.

When meeting with the employee, it's important to create a professional and respectful atmosphere. Allow the employee to share their perspective, ask questions for clarification, and present any evidence they may have. This open dialogue can help to ensure that all relevant information is considered and that the employee feels heard and understood.

Document the meeting

Everything should be documented for several reasons:

  1. It's for clarity for both parties.
  2. It's essential to record what happened in the meeting to monitor the employee in the future.
  3. The reasons must be written on paper to protect against a legal dispute.

Track progress

The last step is tracking progress over time and following up with the employee. In the meeting, let him know the time he has to become better and improve his performance/behavior. What can result from the follow-up? 

  • Another meeting to discuss progress and offer feedback.
  • Analyzing performance objectives.
  • Assigning a mentor or offering training to help the employee meet the standards.
  • Deciding on other disciplinary actions if progress is not happening.


5. Tips for giving written warnings

It's important for both the company and the employee that the warnings issued are concise and fair. Here are 6 tips on how to do that.

  • Articulate the misconduct in a clear, straightforward manner.
  • Point out a direct link between the violation and relevant company policies.
  • Document the entire process as soon as possible.
  • Explain the consequences
  • Follow up and take further action if needed.
  • Make sure everyone receives equal treatment.


6. Do's & don'ts

Here are our recomendations and practices to avoid when dealing with written warnings:

  • When issuing written warnings, following a series of best practices is important. Most companies start with a verbal warning, which can be either a formal or informal discussion, and then escalate to a written warning if necessary. If this does not generate the desired improvement, a final warning before termination should be issued. Documenting all these steps in the company's internal regulations is crucial to ensure consistency and fairness.
  • Meet the employee privately. You may need to explain their side of the story. Sometimes, it could all be a big misunderstanding, so you need to interview them before issuing a warning.
  • Make sure the language you use is extremely clear. Vagueness will not help the employee improve his performance/behavior.
  • Don't take too much time with the investigation or the formal warning. You should do all the steps as soon as the situation occurs because sometimes memory fades over time, which can impede disciplinary procedures.
  • At the end of the meeting with the employee, make sure he understands all the consequences he faces if results are not seen in due time. Also, you need to make sure he signs the document. In case of refusal, have the witness from the meeting write down a mention indicating the refusal.


7. Consequences

What takes place if the worker fails to meet the requested remedial action?

Before all, follow the company policies to the letter and any relevant employment laws. It's crucial.

Then, if no significant improvement is visible in the period the employee was offered, you can issue another written warning. This can be the second, and a final can follow, or the second can be the final one before termination.

When considering termination, legal advice should be taken into account, whether you have in-house counsel or hire one from a law firm.


8. Written Warning Template

A written warning template is a standardized document used by employers to formally notify an employee of their unacceptable behavior, performance, or conduct. The template provides a structured format for documenting the issue, the expected improvement, and the consequences of not meeting the expected standards.
A typical Written Warning Template includes the following components:

  1. Introduction: A brief statement explaining the purpose of the warning and the specific behavior or performance issue.
  2. Description of the Issue: A clear and concise description of the unacceptable behavior, performance, or conduct.
  3. Specific Examples: Specific examples or instances of the unacceptable behavior, performance, or conduct.
  4. Expected Improvement: A clear statement of corective actions and what the employee is expected to do to improve the situation.
  5. Consequences of Non-Compliance: A statement outlining the consequences of not meeting the expected standards, including potential disciplinary actions.
  6. Next Steps: A statement outlining the next steps, including any additional training, coaching, or support that will be provided.
  7. Employee Response: A section for the employee to acknowledge receipt of the warning and to provide their response or any questions they may have.

Written Warning Template


8. FAQs

What distinguishes between a first written warning and a final written warning?

The first warning is the first formal document describing the employee's misconduct or poor performance and constitutes a step toward dismissal.

The final written warning can be issued if the behavior is not improved over a set time frame.


How long should a written warning last?

There is no imposed universal time frame; you should follow the company policies. For example, a written warning is active for 6 months or even a year (depending on the severity of the case), during which the employee is being tracked for improvement. It is extremely important to include this in the document.


Do you always need to issue a written warning?

In case of severe misconduct, when the employee's actions harm the business as a whole, you can take direct disciplinary action, leading to dismissal. 

Moreover, if the action is against the law, you must inform the police.

The modern workplace needs to work with written warnings because it's a great way to set boundaries for employees and an expression of transparency regarding the employer's attitude. Make sure you design the written warning template that suits you best. We offer a template containing all the essential components, but it is up to you to customize it according to your company's policies.