48 Professional Warning Letters to Employee (8 Steps Guide)

warning letter to employee

An Employee Warning Letter is a formal cautionary document that is usually sent by a human resource manager to an employee informing them of a breach of company protocols.

The letter serves to inform the employee of their misconduct and details of consequences that may come if they fail to improve themselves.

Organizational managers and human resource personnel should never overlook or tolerate any type of disorderly conduct by employees as it leads to future disciplinary problems and dissatisfaction among other employees. Different organizations have different policies that dictate how disciplinary action against employee misconduct should be addressed, but the first step that any organization generally takes is a verbal warning for minor infractions. 

However, when verbal communications between the supervisor and the employee do not lead to a change of behavior, a formal warning letter is necessary as it is more effective in stopping any further misconduct or breach of company rules. Unlike a verbal warning, employees can see and reply to a written warning; thus, managers can record the employee’s performance.

Warning letters to employees can also be referred to using the following names:

  • Employee warning notice
  • Letter of reprimand
  • Disciplinary form
  • Written warning notice

Importance of a Warning Letter to Employee

A warning letter is an essential formal communication mechanism that allows company managers to take corrective action against employees’ underperformance, regular absenteeism, or general misconduct at work.

The letter is important due to the following reasons:

  • An employee warning letter is a record that is usually documented in the employee’s personnel file for future reference. The documented form highlights performance or misconduct issues and an action plan for the employee to improve. This ensures that the employee understands the seriousness of the matter and strives to improve.
  • Written warnings help set expectations for future behavior, and storing them in the employee’s file allows for easy retrieval if the employee fails to meet the expected improvement standards.
  • A formal warning letter to an employee can also be used legally if termination or other legal action must be carried out. Without the letter, it can be very difficult to defend your organization against an unfair dismissal claim.

Common Reasons to Issue a Warning Letter

Several reasons may necessitate an employer to put employees on notice using warning letters.

This includes:

Due to excessive absence and lateness

In a normal workplace setting, employees will generally get sick or have emergencies that may warrant their absence at work from time to time. However, when a staff member is constantly absent from work or late, the manager may need to issue them an attendance warning letter. This is especially when the employee’s absence affects their productivity or when the attendance issues are affecting the organization’s productivity goals.

If an employee fails to meet the job requirements

If an employee fails to meet the job requirements or produces substandard work, issuing them a written warning that highlights the performance concerns is acceptable. Common examples of poor performance include too many mistakes, inability to follow the job guidelines, and missed deadlines.

Breaching any type of policies

Instances, where employees pose safety risks by disregarding health and safety regulations, call for written warning letters highlighting the safety violations. This is because disregarding such regulations could be perilous to the business, and immediate disciplinary action must be taken against those employees to avoid future safety issues within the workplace.

Disregarding company policies such as drug and alcohol abuse at the workplace or breach of the confidentiality clause by company employees also warrant issuing employee warning letters.

Deliberate falsification of records

If an employee deliberately falsifies documents or records to mislead the employer, issuing them a warning letter is considered standard practice. However, this is considered gross misconduct in most cases, leading to immediate termination without warning notices.

Stealing from the business

Stealing from the business or a co-worker is categorized as gross misconduct for most organizational policies. An employer may decide to issue the employee a warning letter notifying them of the consequences of their behavior, including suspension from work or immediate termination.

Verbal or physical official violence

When an employee threatens to physically harm another employee or is generally rude or disruptive to co-workers, a formal employee warning letter is considered an acceptable corrective action measure.

How to Issue a Warning to an Employee

Handing out employee warning letters is an unpleasant experience, but they are a necessity as they ensure employees know what is expected of them and what is considered unacceptable conduct.

The following is a guide on how to issue warning letters to employees to make the process smoother and ensure it has the desired impact:

Step 1- Notify the employee beforehand

You can send a written warning through the traditional mail or via email, but either way, you should have the employee’s immediate supervisor or line manager notify him/her beforehand. You may follow up with a phone call to emphasize the seriousness of the breach.

Step 2- Schedule a face-to-face meeting

Set up a convenient time and location where you can meet with the employee and discuss the matter beforehand. In most cases, the warning letter is usually issued at the meeting with a third party, such as a human resource representative present. It is essential that you set up the meeting in a formal setting such as the company’s designated meeting room, your office, or a supervisor’s cabin rather than informal settings such as restaurants or cafeterias.

Step 3- Inform the employee of the reason for the meeting

Start the meeting by informing the employee why you have set up the meeting. Then proceed to discuss the issue at hand with the employee citing specific areas of concern. Preparing early is recommended to have in-depth details of your concerns as the employee will often try to justify their behavior. It is also worthwhile to go over the allegations point by point and take time to let the employee react.

Step 4- Set clear expectations

Once you have raised the employee’s infractions, discuss the specific outcomes expected from them and provide a specific timeframe for improvement. The employee should walk out of the meeting room knowing exactly what they need to do and the consequences of failing to improve as expected.

Step 5- Make the discussion conversational

It is crucial that you make the meeting conversational rather than one-way communication to allow the employee to share thoughts on how they can improve going forward. Make sure to document the employee’s thoughts on the company copy of the warning letter.

Step 6- Sign the letter

All three parties, the employee, the HR representative, and the manager, should sign the written warning letter at the meeting. In some cases, the employee might refuse to sign the letter. In such cases, the manager and the HR representative should go ahead and sign the document, then the employee’s reasons for refusing to sign it should be noted down.

Step 7- Making copies

Issue the employee the original copy of the warning letter and file a copy of the signed document in the employee’s personal employment file. This step is important for future reference if any legal action needs to be taken or in the event of a lawsuit.

Components of an Employee Warning Letter

Generally, it may be helpful for a written employee warning notice to include as much detail as possible to establish clear expectations, a timeline and eliminate any guesswork for anyone reviewing the employee’s personnel file in the future.

As such, the letter should incorporate the following information:

  • The letter should include the company details such as the name of the organization, the manager’s name, and position in the organization, as well as the name of the human resource representative if applicable
  • The date of the warning
  • The employment details of the employee, including their name, job title/position, and their payroll or employee number
  • The level or type of discipline, for example, first written warning, written warning with a three-day suspension
  • A detailed description of the infraction the employee is being reprimanded for as well as a precise date of occurrence
  • A list of the previous warnings, including verbal warnings and written notices that the employer has issued to the employee and relevant disciplinary actions taken against them.
  • A description of the specific policy and procedures that the employee breached
  • Corrective action for the employee as well as what is expected from them going forward
  • A comment section for employee comments, signing details for all the involved parties, and any other additional information, such as whether a follow-up assessment will be necessary and when.

Sample Employee Warning Letters

To have a better and clear idea of how to structure and format your employee warning letters, review the following sample letters:

Sample warning letter to employee for unaccepted behavior

[Company letterhead]

September 15, 2021


John Doe,

7658 Hemmingway’s street,

New Orleans.

Dear Mr. John,

According to XYZ Group of School’s code of ethics, this letter serves as a formal warning for breach of company protocols. Specifically, you threatened a student for failing to pass your test.

The student’s parents reported this incident to the school management on September 11, 2021, and the behavior is unacceptable. Upon deliberations with your immediate supervisor, you acknowledged your wrongdoings.

As a learning institution, it is our duty to create a positive learning environment for students, and threatening them for failing a test is generally unacceptable and will not be overlooked.

Our employment policy also dictates that all employees should treat each student with respect and dignity and promote a safe, nurturing, and positive school and work environment, and we expect you to adhere to these protocols at any time.

In the future, the school management expects you to:

• Refrain from threatening or uttering words that demean the students

• Maintain a constructive, safe, and nurturing environment for all the students.

This warning is intended to help you correct your unacceptable behavior. Further violations will result in stricter disciplinary actions, including disciplinary probation, suspension without pay, or dismissal from your employment.

We wish you the best in all aspects of your job, and we hope that you will be able to implement the above-stated corrective action. Kindly feel free to let us know if there is any way we can help you make the necessary changes.


Andrea Johns,

HR manager, XYZ Group of Schools.

To be signed by the employee:

I acknowledge receiving a copy of this letter, and I understand its contents.

_ [employee’s signature]

_ [Date]

Sample warning letter for excessive absence

Alexander Patrick,

Human Resource Manager,

ABC Company Limited,

467 3rd Street Valley Road, Pretoria, South Africa.


Jonathan Barlow

Staff Member, Procurement and Logistics department

Payroll number: 334567

ABC Company Limited

467 3rd Street Valley Road, Pretoria, South Africa.

Date: September 15,2021

Dear Mr. Barlow,

Ref: Warning Letter for Jonathan Barlow for excessive absenteeism

This written notice is to officially notify you of certain performance concerns in your work. In the past five weeks, you have been attending work irregularly, which has affected your performance and your team’s productivity.

This is not in line with ABC company policies on work attendance, and this is unacceptable. Your immediate supervisor, Mr. Charles Wellington, has warned you twice, verbally, about this particular conduct and asked you to be more disciplined about your attendance.

However, the behavior has been repeated continually, forcing us to issue you a formal warning letter asking you to strictly adhere to our company guidelines on the Monday to Friday 8-5 attendance rule. Going forward, failing to comply with this rule without sufficient reasons for taking time away from work and prior permission from your supervisor may force us to take stronger disciplinary action against you.

If you are experiencing a hard time at work or challenges in your personal life, kindly feel free to discuss the issue with us. However, such indiscipline in attendance will not be tolerated again.


Alexander Patrick

HR manager, ABC Company LTD

Employee Warning Letter Template

[Company or business letterhead]

[Current date]

[Receiver’s name]

[Receiver’s job title or position]

[Respective department]

[Receiver’s address]

Dear, [receiver/employee’s name]

According to____________ [site the specific company policy/employment contract],this is a formal warning notice. This action is based on your________________ [insert the performance concerns/unacceptable conduct, policy violations, etc].

On previous occasions, detailed reviews have been made regarding your__________ [Insert the concerns, for example, attendance, performance, general conduct, etc.]so that you understand the requirements of the job and the implications of your conduct. The issues have been discussed verbally on______________ [Insert the specific dates] and in writing____________ [list the written notices issued for example, counselling letter, performance appraisals, emails, etc]. However, you have remained adamant in meeting these expectations.

Your continued failure to follow the basic requirements of your job has had a serious impact on the operations of our________________ [List the areas affected, e.g., the department, customers, co-workers, etc.] affecting our ability to meet corporate goals.

Going forward, you will be expected to______________ [insert what is expected from the employee and include a timeframe]. Failure to meet the laid-out expectations will result in further disciplinary action, including______________ [List the consequences forthcoming including suspension without pay, or loss of employment]

Note that you are free to review the______________ [contract/employment policy] for your appeal rights.

Feel free to contact me__________________ [include details of how the employee can contact you] if you have questions concerning this letter or need clarifications.


[sender’s name and job title]

[sender’s signature]

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    Dos and Don’ts of Employee Warning Letters

    When it comes to drafting employee warning letters, there are certain things that you need to keep in mind to ensure you deliver the message as intended.

    The following is a list of the dos and the don’ts of employee warning letters:


    Following are the things needed for an employee warning letter:

    Consider the structure

    A warning letter to an employee is an official document, and as is with any formal letter, the letter’s structure should be professionally organized. Organizing the letter logically helps you lay out the details of your concerns more consistently, allowing no room for future misinterpretations.

    Go straight to the details

    Employee warning letters should be simple, precise, and to the point. The identified infractions must be made clear from the start such that the employee does not misinterpret the message. Bringing up other matters may make it hard for the employee to focus on what is important and what they need to do to get back on track. The allegations should be detailed using short sentences, and a professional tone must be maintained throughout the letter to avoid conflicts with the employee.

    Mention previous verbal or written warnings

    If there is a record of previous warnings, include them in the warning letter if they are fairly recent (preferably within the past 5 years) and somehow related to the conduct in the current discipline.

    Include disciplinary action

    Employee warning letters rarely contain any binding disciplinary action. However, the document should highlight the consequences that may be forthcoming for the employee if they repeat the same mistakes in the future. If any action is taken against the employee as punishment for their disorderly conduct, it should also be detailed in the letter.

    Offer a solution

    A warning letter to an employee should not only serve to reprimand the employee for their unacceptable behavior or performance, but it should also include an action plan to help the employee do better down the line. This prevents hostility between the company and the employee, ensuring that both sides benefit from the situation.


    The following are the things to avoid when writing and handing out employee warning letters:

    Don’t get personal

    An employee warning letter’s tone should be polite despite its negative connotation. This is because the letter is mainly written with the intention of helping the employee improve his/her behavior for the smooth functioning of the company. As such, managers should avoid taking a personal approach when writing it or adding an emotional tone to it.

    Don’t make baseless claims

    While writing the employee warning letter, you should focus on the specific wrongdoing and connect the employee’s conduct to the company policies violated. This adds credibility to the warning notice and helps strengthen the company’s defenses in future litigations. It also helps to ensure policies are not flouted in the future.

    Don’t forget to proofread

    Employee warning letters are official documents that are usually recorded in the employee’s personnel files. This means that they should be professionally formatted, and proofreading ensures that they have no grammar, spelling, or punctuation errors. Bear in mind that too many grammatical and punctuation mistakes can lead to ambiguity and misinterpretations, making the letter ineffective in dealing with employee behavior or performance concerns.

    Ask for the employee’s signature or follow-up

    It is important that the employee signs the two copies of the employee warning letter to confirm that he/she has received and acknowledged it. If you send the letter via email, request a follow-up proving that the employee has received the message.

    Don’t forget to allow an opportunity to provide a written response

    Employees have the right to appeal to employee warning notices. Therefore, make sure to remind them of this option and provide the necessary contact details. If the employee does submit a response, make sure to review it to determine whether a follow-up is needed. This helps to promote good employee relationships.

    Warning Letter Examples

    Following are some free downloadable templates for you:

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      Frequently Asked Questions

      What is probation?

      An employee may be placed on probation for committing serious offenses at the workplace or for unsatisfactory performance. The employee placed on probation will be issued with a written notice of probation, which generally details the reasons for the action, the length of the probationary period, and a corrective action plan that the employee must successfully implement during the probation period.
      During the period, the manager will meet with the employee to review his progress from time to time. Once the disciplinary probation period is over, an employee who does not show satisfactory improvement may be subject to further disciplinary action, which may include suspension or termination of employment.

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