Management Tips··9 min read

How To Write Up An Employee (Properly)

How to Write up an Employee (Properly)

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.

Today, we're going to show you how to write up an employee in a way that won't scream unfair treatment.

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 and you cannot take any corrective action.

A formal write-up will be filed in a worker's personnel records. Should that worker eventually be fired and he or she file 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. To take an employee disciplinary action, accurately describe the employee behavior, e.g. that they are missing productivity expectations. Otherwise, you risk unfair treatment accusations.

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, all the while explaining expectations for improvement. When things get ugly, this becomes legal documentation that can also be used against you in a legal dispute.

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”. Explain the behavioral issues accurately.

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. The poor behavior must be described accurately.

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 adheres to the same standards of objectivity and factual correctness as the rest of the write-up.

The unacceptable behavior report should be filed on a standard form and the account of this disrespectful behavior should be as objective as possible. You want the employee signature on this write-up document too.

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.

So, if someone is having attendance issues, explain what the situation is and create an action plan, before writing up any disciplinary action forms for the employee.

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 a 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. Formal documentation is a necessity here, so create a formal document you can reuse.

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 employee file. Employee personnel files are documents where you make remarks about everything, including employee discipline.

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.


What is an employee write up, and when should it be used?

An employee write up is a formal notice given to an employee for a specific issue related to their behavior or performance. It's typically used after a verbal warning and is part of the progressive discipline process.

Write ups may be used for poor performance, violation of company policy, or other misconduct. The employee write up form includes details of the incident, expected behavior, and any disciplinary action taken, such as a written warning.

How should an employee's behavior be documented in the disciplinary process?

Documenting an employee's behavior in the disciplinary process involves creating a written document that includes specific details of the incident, any witness statements, and the steps taken to address the issue.

This may include verbal warnings, written warnings, or further disciplinary action. The written documentation should be objective, clear, and stored in the employee's personnel file as part of the employee's permanent record.

What is the difference between a verbal warning and a written warning in dealing with employee performance issues?

A verbal warning is an informal conversation with an employee about a performance issue or misconduct, often serving as a wake-up call.

A written warning is a more formal step in the disciplinary process, usually given after a verbal warning if the employee continues the undesired behavior. The written warning is documented on a write up form and placed in the employee's file, outlining the specific issue and any further disciplinary measures that may be taken if the behavior continues.

How can I ensure that the disciplinary notice is fair and prevents wrongful termination?

Ensuring fairness in the disciplinary notice involves following company policies and procedures, clearly documenting the employee's misconduct or performance issues, and providing an opportunity for the employee to improve.

Including witness statements, adhering to the progressive discipline approach, and consulting the employee handbook can help prevent legal action or claims of wrongful termination. It's essential to treat all employees consistently and transparently.

What should be included in a formal employee write up form?

A formal employee write up form should include details of the employee's behavior or performance issue, the company policy violated, any previous verbal or written warnings, the disciplinary action taken, and a plan for improvement.

It may also include witness statements and a section for the employee to acknowledge receipt. This written documentation should be stored in the employee's personnel file as part of their permanent record.

What steps should be taken if an employee refuses to sign the write up form?

If an employee refuses to sign the write up form, it's essential to document their refusal on the form itself. You may also ask a witness to sign, confirming the employee's refusal.

The refusal to sign does not invalidate the write up or the disciplinary measures taken. It's advisable to explain to the employee that the signature is an acknowledgment of receipt, not necessarily agreement, and to provide a copy of the write up for their records.

How can progressive discipline help an employee improve their performance?

Progressive discipline is a step-by-step process that helps employees understand and correct performance issues or misconduct. It typically starts with a verbal warning, followed by written warnings, further disciplinary action, and possibly immediate termination if the employee fails to improve.

This approach provides multiple opportunities for the employee to understand the desired behavior and make necessary changes, fostering a productive work environment that aligns with the company handbook.

How should multiple employees involved in the same incident be handled?

When multiple employees are involved in the same incident, each employee should be addressed individually, following the company's disciplinary process.

This may include separate write ups, witness statements, and tailored disciplinary action based on each employee's behavior and involvement. Consistency in applying company policies and maintaining confidentiality is crucial to ensure fairness and integrity in the process and helps you avoid legal issues too.

How can I maintain confidentiality and integrity in handling employee records and disciplinary actions?

Maintaining confidentiality and integrity involves securely storing written documentation, such as write up forms and personnel files, and limiting access to authorized personnel. Discussions about disciplinary actions should be conducted privately, and information should only be shared with those directly involved in the process.

Adhering to company policies and legal regulations regarding employee records and privacy helps maintain trust and professionalism in the workplace.

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