Ideally, your staff is always professional and never acts in a way that requires they be reprimanded. However, that isn’t always the case for business owners.
Some forms of behavior require immediate termination, while other types of conduct require a less-drastic measure. A formal yet less harsh response is needed in these situations. This is commonly called “writing up” an employee. As a business owner, knowing when to use this form of discipline and exactly how to do so is important.
Writing up an employee is a type of discipline. It serves as a formal notice that an employee’s behavior is unacceptable and needs to improve, or additional, more significant consequences may follow. A write-up is a formal letter that spells out what the infraction was, how the behavior must change and what you, the employer, will do if it doesn’t.
Ronna DeLoe, an attorney with LegalZoom, said a write-up documents employee conduct and establishes an improvement plan. An employee write-up can include detailed documentation, including written witness statements. If the disciplined employee files a lawsuit for wrongful termination, having documentation (i.e., the write-up) can be a key part of your defense.
However, if you feel that the behavior or issue isn’t a fireable offense, you can include in the write-up a plan for improvement by the employee, including what they need to do to keep their job. The write-up can also specify a deadline for the desired performance you want from the employee.
There is not a standard form or template mandated by the federal government or state authorities. It is up to each business to create its own employee write-up form. However, it should contain the following elements:
While it isn’t as serious as a termination letter, an employee write-up form still has consequences for employees and employers if it is not completely filled out or the proper procedures aren’t followed.
Here are eight steps you should follow when writing up an employee:
Do not discuss the matter with employees who aren’t involved in the situation. Employee discipline should always be held in strict confidence between those in the HR department, the employee and their manager.
There are federal and state laws that determine how (and for how long) you need to hang on to certain employee records. Familiarizing yourself with what an employee personnel file is and what it includes can help protect your business.
An employee write-up should be one of many tools in your human resources toolbox. Typically, a write-up is issued for:
Certain behaviors fall outside the bounds of an employee write-up. For example, incompetence should not be addressed through a write-up; instead, it is best handled in your annual or semiannual performance review of the employee.
In addition, the below actions represent conduct that would warrant immediate termination:
An employee write-up should be presented in person, followed by an in-person conversation with the employee about your concerns. Because of the legalities involved, another person should be present, as a witness.
Ensure that the tone of the meeting communicates the objective is to help the employee.
After the conversation, give the write-up to the employee so they can review it. Ask whether they have any questions. If they do, provide clear answers. Before ending the meeting, ask the employee to sign the form.
There are two ways to document disrespect. One is to cite details of behavior, not their attitude. For example, note that the employee remained on a personal phone call during a meeting. Be specific about the dates and times of these incidents. The second way is to include witness statements documenting other employee behavior, such as if the individual raised their voice.
That is up to management. An incentive for improvement could be that the write-up will be removed from the worker’s file after six months of successful performance.
Yes. The content of write-ups can serve as a diagnostic tool for identifying common problems. If a company is plagued by the same problem, it can be a clear sign for a new policy on certain types of behavior.
Most employee handbooks carry the disclaimer that the company reserves the right to change policies at any time. This ensures that any employee discipline remains intact.
Skye Schooley contributed to this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.