First written warning to employee about misconduct

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What’s a first written warning to an employee about misconduct and when do you need it?

This letter forms part of our suite of materials to support you where you have invoked your disciplinary policy and its process because of inappropriate conduct by one of your employees. This letter is the first formal written warning to an employee, and it should follow the process set out in your disciplinary policy.

Depending on what the employee has done, you may already have issued a verbal written warning to the employee before taking this step. If the employee has not heeded the verbal warning, this formal written warning would be the next step.

There’s no obligation on you to issue a verbal warning first; though in practice, many employers do so. To prove that it took place, a verbal warning would need to be confirmed in writing in any event, which does blur the lines a little. Verbal warnings are often helpful, however, in managing the temperature of disciplinary-based discussions.

You might want to issue a formal written warning about misconduct activities, such as poor attendance and timekeeping, unauthorised absence from work, being careless when carrying out work, time wasting, behaving offensively, making an excessive number of personal phone calls on business phones and unauthorised use of business equipment or property.

If your concern is more about the output of an employee’s work and its poor quality, you should take a look at our suite of performance-related letters.

Warning letters can be controversial and employees who face them may feel resentful, embarrassed, unfairly treated and angry, which can make discussions between you and them quite challenging. Prior to sending this letter, you should have had at least one, if not more, meetings with the employee to explain your concerns about their conduct – this is the disciplinary hearing referred to in the first paragraph of this template.

It's important to ensure that the employee was told in advance that the earlier meeting was a disciplinary meeting, what aspects of their conduct have been identified as unacceptable and therefore constitute misconduct, and about the range of potential consequences/sanctions that might be applied following the discussions at that disciplinary meeting.

You should only use this suite of materials in relation to employees.

If you were to apply your disciplinary proceedings to someone who is not an employee, or to treat them in an equivalent manner, this could lead inadvertently to an employment tribunal concluding that that individual does in fact have employment status, with the enhanced rights attaching to such status.

It would be better to seek specific advice on how to handle anyone whose behaviour is a problem but who is not an employee.