A Guide to Writing a Warning Letter to Employees

Having stellar employees makes any company perform better as a whole. But what happens if an employee is underperforming or, worse, behaving in a blatantly inappropriate or unprofessional manner? This is where warnings come into play.

What is a warning letter to employees?

Warning letters serve as a written censure of misconduct. Usually, they would follow a verbal warning, during which the behavior is discussed, and the employee has the opportunity to provide an explanation for their actions.

When is it appropriate to use a warning letter?

Warning letters should be used for severe one-time offenses or repeat offenses. If you have cautioned an employee before and the actions continue, a written warning is justified. Written warnings are also extremely important for legal reasons to prove that the employee was given multiple opportunities to rectify their actions and did not do so.

What should be included in a warning letter?

Though structure can vary a bit based upon the company, it’s generally wise to follow a format similar as follows:

  • Date
  • Subject
  • Employee name
  • Explanation of violation
  • Reasons why the actions taken by the employee constitute a violation
  • Disciplinary actions being taken in response to the violation
  • Signature of manager/individual writing the warning
  • Space for signature of employee upon receipt

Warning letters should be brief and to the point, written on company letterhead. Make sure your wording is clear. You don’t want to use overly frilly language, or make the letter too emotionally charged. Be sure to be as specific as possible in the details of the infraction—when it happened, where, with whom, regarding what, etc. Include not just the date the incident took place (or dates if there have been several), but also the date of the verbal warning(s). Clearly specify where in the company’s handbook/policies the behavior is prohibited. Avoid the use of any unsubstantiated claims or hyperbole; this should be as concise and precise as possible.

Remind the employee that they do have the option to dispute the contents of the letter in written form. Additionally, be sure to provide some sort of solution, or a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). If you do offer a PIP, whether as a requirement or a suggestion, make it known in the letter. Letters for poor performance or negligence should follow a similar format. In instances of poor performance, be sure to offer solutions and suggestions, and let them know that each person’s work is important to the whole of the company. Closeout as you would in any warning letter by letting them know that disciplinary action will be taken if corrective action is not. It’s important to include in any warning letter what the employee can expect if their actions remain unchanged.

Lastly, try to end the letter on a positive note, perhaps indicating the value and skillset they bring to the team and how you’d like to see their performance reflect these positive attributes.

Example of a Warning Letter

August 2, 2022

Re: Written Warning for Misconduct

To Mr. John Doe:

This written warning is in reference to our discussion earlier today regarding your poor performance. As we discussed, you have consistently arrived at least one hour late to work (documented on 7/13, 7/14, 7/16, 7/17, 7/20, 7/21, 7/23, 7/28, 7/29, 7/30, 7/31). You have been unable to offer an explanation for your tardiness and did not notify your supervisor that you would be arriving late on any of those days. You have thus far received three verbal warnings (7/14, 720, and 7/28), as well as one warning this morning.

As per your employee handbook, your position requires that you arrive at 0800 every morning Monday through Friday. If lateness is unavoidable, you are expected to notify your supervisor as soon as possible. It is important that all employees adhere to these regulations so our company can operate smoothly and efficiently as a team.

As we discussed in our conversation today, we expect corrective action to be taken immediately. If you arrive more than 10 minutes late within the next week, you will receive one last warning. Any unexplained tardiness after that point will result in disciplinary action, up to termination.

If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me. You may also dispute this letter in writing if you see fit.

[Signature of Manager]

[Space for Signature of Employee]

How do you deliver a warning letter to an employee?

Warnings of any type should be handled delicately with employees. Whether written or verbal, they should be done in private in a non-confrontational way. In some cases, depending on the severity of the offense, it might be wise to have an HR representative present. Don’t wait too long between the indiscretion and the warning. The warning should be issued immediately after the behavior takes place.

Keeping records of warning letters delivered to employees

It’s vital to keep a record of warning letters given to employees. Per employment law, employees need to be given notice before termination. To avoid a wrongful termination lawsuit, having the proper documentation is of great importance. These letters, if written well and include the date of previous verbal warnings, will serve as evidence that your company did, in fact, follow protocol when disciplining the employee in question.

It’s never fun to give an employee a written warning. But it doesn’t have to be traumatic. Be precise, be specific, be brief, and be respectful.

Legal Disclaimer: The information provided is for informational purposes only. Although every reasonable effort is made to present current and accurate information, Payscale makes no guarantees of any kind and cannot be held liable for any outdated or incorrect information. If you have any concerns, consult an employment lawyer.

Manage compensation easier with Payfactors

Get faster access to market data with tools to improve fair pay practices.

Learn More