Giving a staff member a formal warning is a necessary step in preventing negative behaviour from affecting your business and your other employees. All it takes is one bad employee to grind your productivity levels to a halt and damage your workplace culture. Issuing a formal warning can feel a little uncomfortable if you’ve never had to do it before, so we’ve put together a guide with all of the information you need to give a formal warning in a professional manner.
When should I give a formal warning?
A formal warning can be given whenever you feel a member of staff is flouting the rules of conduct set out for your business. This could be repeatedly being late to work or being absent, intimidating other staff members with rude behaviour or simply not performing up to the required standard. It’s important, however, to refrain from issuing formal warnings too quickly. The misconduct should be repeated enough for it to be an ongoing issue, rather than a one-off case. The employee that is suddenly arriving late could be dealing with personal issues that will be resolved in a week. If possible, as soon as you notice some concerning behaviour, monitor it for a while and take note of any repeated incidents. This will allow you to present evidence of the misconduct when you do issue a formal warning.
Verbal vs. written warnings
There is no law or requirement for a formal warning to be written, and under the Workplace Relations Act a verbal warning will suffice. However, we’d recommend that you always issue written warnings rather than verbal warnings because if the employee in question was to start an unfair dismissal claim or protest the warning in any other way, you have more evidence of your claim with a written warning. If you do choose to issue a verbal warning, you should still make sure to follow the correct protocol and have a witness on your behalf and a witness on the employee’s behalf also present. You all should also have everyone present sign a witness statement to say that a verbal warning was issued. This way, you have some form of documentation on record.
What should be included in a written warning?
When you are issuing a written warning, it’s imperative that you include all of the necessary information. Failing to cover the basics could make it much harder for you to then take action if the employee’s behaviour doesn’t improve. Things to include are:
- The nature of the misconduct or performance issue. Try and keep this to a broad description such as ‘failing to meet performance standards’ or ‘misbehaviour in the workplace’ rather than getting too specific, otherwise if a similar issue arose, you may not be able to give a second or final warning and would have to report the issue separately. This could make it more difficult to terminate your employee’s contract and they could use it against you in a tribunal.
- A plan of action including a date for re-evaluation by which time the employee’s behaviour needs to have improved.
- The date of issuing the warning.
- The consequences of the employee failing to meet the code of conduct upon the date of review, i.e. a final warning or the termination of their employment.
- Signatures of yourself, the employee in question and any witnesses present.
- If the employee refuses to sign the document, this needs to be noted.
Should I give a second warning?
We’d recommend that you don’t give out a second warning and instead move straight to a final written warning. By giving out too many formal warnings, you’ll undermine their importance and give the impression that you’re willing to tolerate bad behaviour rather than fire employees. A warning should mean ‘if this behaviour continues, you will be fired’ rather than a more wishy-washy ‘if this behaviour continues, you will get another warning’ because the latter doesn’t really make it clear to the employee they need to improve.
Dismissing a staff member after a warning
If your staff member’s behaviour still hasn’t improved after they’ve been issued both a warning and a final warning, you will need to dismiss the employee. This can be tough to do, especially if you feel like the employee’s behaviour has slowly started to show signs of improvement, but failure to follow through on your warnings will set a precedent in your workplace and will undermine your authority. Dismissing employees for flouting your codes of conduct will also ensure that your remaining employees take note to keep up their good behaviour and prevent them from getting complacent.
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Published by: Miranda Dews