Very few bosses like to write up an employee. The day someone is hired, everyone has high expectations of him or her becoming a top performer within the firm. Unfortunately, things do not always go to plan. If someone persistently breaks the rules by, for example, not doing his or her job properly, coming to work late, or getting involved in conflicts with other workers, the time may come when you have no other choice but to write up him or her.

Such a ‘write-up’ serves a dual purpose. In the first place, the shock of receiving such a formal written warning gives the employee in question a severe jolt, a last chance to get their act in order before being fired. In the second place, it gives the firm an official paper trail that proves the correct procedures were followed.

First issue a verbal or written warning

Never resort to writing up one of your workers before you haven’t first given them a verbal or (preferably) written warning. Such a letter of reprimand will give them a fair opportunity to correct their behavior or shape up their performance. If you don’t do this, they might in the future have grounds to take the firm to court if they end up being fired.

Don’t write up an employee while you are still upset

An official employee write up should never degenerate into a written outburst against that worker. It is supposed to be a type of progressive discipline that provides the employee with tangible ways in which to correct his or her behavior. If the document does not clearly and objectively spell out what the employee did wrong and how he or she can correct the situation, it basically becomes worthless.

A formal write-up will be filed in a worker’s personnel records. Should that worker eventually be fired and he or she files a wrongful termination lawsuit against your firm, you will have to share all documents you have on record about that person’s performance with the court. And if the write-up sounds like you were having an emotional outburst the argument might be raised that you were not objective.

Clearly describe the issue or issues you have with the employee

Address the write-up to the specific worker in question and clearly describe his or her behavior until now. Refer to specific examples and quote dates and times. Above everything else, stay with facts, remain calm and objective, and only address real issues. Make certain that you are not knowingly or unknowingly adding a personal spin or making it sound that you have a personal vendetta against the employee.

For example: do not say “James is lazy and always procrastinates”. Rather say “James has been late with his monthly report 9 out of the past 12 months”.

Sometimes using an employee write up form will help to keep things orderly, objective and unemotional.

Back up your arguments by referring to company policies

When you write up an employee, aim to be concise and precise. Don’t make any vague statements like “James is often late for work”. Refer to the company’s official attendance policy and quote specific examples of how many times this employee was late for work during a specific period. If a worker is repeatedly found to be using social media during office hours, quote the company’s official smartphone usage rules and/or rules about the use of personal devices and social media while on duty.

Include statements from witnesses

If the issue or issues that form the basis for the write-up were raised by another staff member (e.g. a supervisor or shift manager) include a statement from that individual in your write-up. Remember that such a statement might in the future end up as evidence in a court case, so make sure it adhere to the same standards of objectivity and factual correctness as the rest of the write-up.

Give clear examples of how you want things to change

By now you have clearly informed the employee what he or she is doing wrong. At this stage, it is very important to just as clearly spell out what the correct behavior should be. Finally, you also have to spell out unambiguously what will happen if this particular employee should continue to breach the rules. Keep in mind that corrective feedback should be frank. It should include clear steps for improvement and it should not focus on the individual but on the issue.

When you write up an employee, you should also give a timeline for when these changes in behavior or performance are expected to take place.

In this regard, it’s interesting to note that according to the Harvard Business Review, no less than 72 percent of employees are convinced that there will be an improvement in their performance when they start receiving correcting feedback.

The best way to deliver a write-up

To be written up at work is nobody’s idea of fun. That is why, once you are satisfied with the way the write-up letter has been written, it is good idea to schedule a personal meeting with the employee in question. Go through the whole document in his or her presence, and make sure he or she understands what they are doing wrong and how you expect them to fix the problem.

Because proper documentation is a vital part of the whole process, make sure the employee signs a declaration that he or she has read the document and understands what is expected from him or her.

Should the worker want to add something, allow him or her to do so at the bottom of the document. Then file everything in his or her personnel file.

Draw up an improvement plan

If you are really interested in getting results, make the effort to draw up an improvement plan with the worker in question. Talk to him or her and find out whether they need any additional training or other resources to improve their behavior or performance in the workplace.

It might, for example, emerge that the problem could be solved if the employee is reassigned to a another task or schedule, or even a different job. Help them to set up SMART goals that are attainable, realistic, measurable, specific, and time-bound.

Here also there should be clear consequences if the employee fails to meet these goals. This is why you should set up regular meetings with the employee to evaluate whether the goals are being met or not.

Finally, make sure the employee signs this performance improvement plan so you have documentary proof of what has been discussed.