An Employee Write Up at Work…Where to Start?

So, you’re having problems with an employee. They might be a toxic employee, a lazy employee, or someone brand new to the workforce that doesn’t quite have the hang of things. Whatever the reason, it sounds like it’s time for an employee write up at work. It sounds easy enough. But what if you’ve never written someone up before? How does the process go?

What is a Write up at Work?

A write up at work, or an employee write up, is a formal document that must be discussed with and signed by an employee after they have broken important business protocols. This is known as a “written warning” to some. These documents are rarely written after a single incident. Rather, an employee will receive a write up at work whenever they have several ongoing incidents of misbehavior, poor performance, and they’ve received verbal warnings.

In other words, a write up at work is indication that early disciplinary measures have already been taken and you are now progressing toward a possible termination.

Poor Job Performance Examples

What types of behaviors merit a write up or firing? The following are some examples from businessmanagementdaily.com.

  • Excessive tardiness and absences from work
  • Incompetent job performance
  • Quality of output
  • Quantity of output
  • Inappropriate dress
  • Inappropriate electronic communications use
  • Violations of safety protocols
  • Violations of general workplace policies
  • Verbal threats or physical violence of any sort
  • Complaints from customers or staff of sexual harassment or discrimination
  • On-the-job substance abuse

Why Employee Write Ups are Important

Employee write ups provide the documentation needed in order to terminate an employee. It shows what took place and why, and is available if needed to make a case for why termination took place. As mentioned previously, an employee write up should occur after verbal warnings and/or coaching sessions as needed. Unhappiness with a specific action or inaction should be made very clear at a performance review.

employee write up at work discussion

Image via Flickr

Employee write ups also are a way for the employee to know the severity of their misconduct. A verbal warning is far easier to brush off than a written document that highlights the actions. The process of the employee needing to sign the document assures that they fully understand that they will be terminated if things do not begin to improve.

Wrongful Termination Lawsuits

The most important reason to document any and all disciplinary action is to protect yourself and your small business from wrongful termination lawsuits. Disgruntled former employees, especially those who no longer have a source of income, can threaten the financial resources and reputation of your small business. Proper documentation will protect you from any false claims even if they claim that they were terminated unlawfully.

Can you Fire an Employee without a Write up at Work?

The short answer: sometimes.

The ability to fire someone without documentation depends upon what type of employment contract he or she is under. There are two different employment contracts. At-will employment and contracted employment are the two different types.

At-Will Employment

An employee hired with an at-will employment contract is free to quit at any given time. And that goes both ways. The employer is also able to fire them at any given time, without notice or formalities, as long as it does not break any laws. A few examples of unlawful firing would be firing based on discrimination, in retaliation for a sexual harassment complaint, or for exercising legal rights.

Employment at-will is not a federal law, it’s a standard business practice. You need to be clear about your intent to use this firing technique in on-boarding documents.

Contracted Employment

Contracted employment is a little different. It is unlawful to terminate a contracted employee until the contract is up. The contract can be an employment contract or a union contract. Contracts like these protect employees and employers alike. A contract will protect the employer from suddenly having an open position that will need to be filled by an extensive search to screen resumesfind a good employee, hire and train them. It also gives the employee job security. The only exception, in this case, is if the contract specifies situations that warrant grounds for immediate dismissal and the employee’s conduct meets this criteria.

Tips for Documenting Employee Discipline

Document Verbal Warnings and Incidents Prior to Employee Write up

I know, this seems tedious. But, more documentation is undoubtedly better in this scenario. When you document the casual verbal warnings that you have given prior to formally presenting the employee write up, it will be much easier to prove at a later time that the employee had been counseled about the issue.

document everything for an employee write up at work

image via wocintechchat.com

Documenting a verbal warning doesn’t need to be difficult. It doesn’t even need to be typed and printed. You could simply note the incident on a manager’s log or email yourself the details of the incident. Just don’t forget to use a detailed and searchable subject in the email.

Be Thorough

When documenting verbal warnings and incidents. be sure to share necessary details. Don’t just say, “employee late four times in a month.” Instead, include reasons given for tardiness, how much time passed between his schedule and actual arrival, and the date of the incident.

Be Consistent

Don’t punish one employee for a behavior that is an issue with many others. This isn’t a method of setting an example for the team. After all, a write up at work should be done behind closed doors.

Consider if the issue is one that you have with other staff members and if this person is doing it far more often than them. If that’s not the case, a write up isn’t your next step. This should be addressed with everyone on your team as it could be an office-wide or company culture issue that you have on your hands.

Stick to the Facts

Keep it simple and direct. Note the policy or procedure that the employee has violated and the date or dates that they occurred.

write up at work

This is formal documentation that should be completely devoid of personal issues or emotional content. Steep clear of language that reflects personal impressions such as “I think…” or “in my opinion….” Don’t use labels or adjectives at all. After all, saying someone is a “slacker” or “lazy” will only cause them to put their guard up.

And please, please. don’t add any assumptions about why the behavior is occurring. It would be completely unprofessional to draw conclusions from an employee’s personal life that are affecting their business behaviors.

Use a Standard Form

This situation is difficult enough emotionally. Yes, business and personal relationships should be separate. Yes, you shouldn’t get emotionally involved. But it’s no fun bearing bad news to anyone if all you want to do is see others succeed.

standard form for en employee write up at work

Image via homethods.com

That’s what you should have a form already created on your hard drive or the cloud for these instances. You can simplify the action of filling out the document and have at least one easy aspect of this task.

State Consequences

You’re a few steps into the disciplinary process by the time a write up has been issued. Termination isn’t necessarily eminent, but it’s certainly a possibility. Make clear that what consequences you’ll have in place going forward. Should this person go through a probationary period? Is there another consequence that their specific behavior merits? You decide. And then make it clear in the document.

Share the Document in Private

When you’ve created a written documentation of the infraction, the employee should be aware of it. They should have the opportunity to understand what is going wrong, the severity of the situation, and to correct their behavior.

Go through the Employee Write Up Point-by-Point

Discuss with the employee each incident that is mentioned. Don’t just hand it over to them. This is your opportunity to discuss the values that your company has and your expectations for those who are members of your team. Make clear when the  unacceptable behaviors occurred, and talk out each one.

jennifer aniston in office space is a toxic employee

Have the Employee Sign the Document

A write up at work is a formality. When you have the employee sign that they have received this warning, you are showing that the issue was discussed with them. They may not want to sign the document and you can’t force them to do it. Read on to the next section to find out what to do if an employee refuses to sign a write up document.

Allow for a Response

The employee should be able to give a written response to a write up at work. Allow space for a response and file it along with the write up in their file. If they feel like they need more time to think out a response, they should be free to do that, too.

What if an Employee Won’t Sign an Employee Write up at Work?

If the employee refuses to sign the document, indicate that on the document. One doesn’t need to sign the document in order for it to be valid. In fact, a write up at work isn’t even a legal document. It’s merely a sheet of paper that indicates an issue occurred. And it can be used as proof when necessary. That’s it.

discussing an employee write up

Image via Flickr

Another way to avoid the employee claiming at a later time that they did not receive a formal written warning via the write up is to email them the document. This creates an electronic paper trail that proves that the information was provided to them.

First of all, Why Wouldn’t an Employee Sign a Write up?

There are a few reasons why an employee would refuse to sign a write up.

  • If the employee disagrees with the content of the write up.
  • They believe an unsigned document is invalidated.
  • They’re continuing to show the defiant behavior that put them in this situation in the first place.

This is Why Space for a Response is Important

As mentioned, a write up at work is merely an acknowledgement that you had the conversation, An employee doesn’t know that they aren’t stating that the information on the document is indeed true when they refuse to sign the write up. You then have the opportunity to let them know the true purpose. Tell them why their signature is needed. And then suggest that they write any disputes they have with what was said in the space provided.

Give Them a Few Days

If they don’t want to sign, let them know that their deadline for this to be completed is in a few days. It’s fine to allow them to think it over. Especially if they’d like to respond.

But, Remember: That’s Insubordination.

And they can get fired for that if they are an at-will employee. Or you can add it on to your list of ongoing issues that you’ve had with this employee. Decide ahead of time what the disciplinary actions will be if the employee doesn’t want to sign the document. Ultimately, it’s up to you and the employment contract you have in place.


Apply this to your small business

Employee discipline is definitely among the least fun aspects of entrepreneurship. But it’s necessary to keep standards and productivity high. Just remember the above information about employee write ups and you should be ready in case the situation does indeed arise.

Now, try this…

Prepare yourself! Go ahead and set up a standard form and have plans in place for what will necessitate a write up. Employee disciplinary actions can cause a lot of work-related stress, but you don’t have to lose sleep over it! If you wait until the issue is at hand, it will just cause you more stress.

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