Warnings are designed to identify where an employee needs to improve his or her conduct, rather than as a tool for dismissal.
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How to give a formal warning

Unfortunately, there may be times when the behaviour of one of your employees warrants a formal warning. But what is the correct procedure for doing this?

There are different types of formal warnings dependant on the seriousness of the issue. Bear in mind that warnings are designed to identify where an employee needs to improve his or her conduct, rather than as a tool for dismissal. However, if the behaviour does not improve, the warnings provide evidence that the correct steps were followed if you eventually need to dismiss them.

Repeated absenteeism, failure to follow company policies and procedures – such as the improper use of computer systems – or aggressive behaviour towards colleagues are types of behaviour that warrant an official warning.


The following steps from the Randstad HR Resource Guide provide an insight into the formal warning process.

Oral warning. An oral warning should detail the performance issue and what level of performance is expected. Ideally, the warning should be issued in the presence of witnesses who represent the employer and the employee and should also be documented.

First written warning. The issue is documented in writing and given to the employee in front of witnesses. The warning should include:

  • Details of the performance or conduct issue
  • The action required by the employee to correct the issue
  • A time frame for the performance to be reviewed
  • The consequences if the employee does not address the issue
  • Details of all witnesses
  • Details of any previous warnings
  • Signature of the witnesses, employer and employee. If the employee refuses to sign, he or she should still be given a copy of the warning

The written warning is then placed in the employee’s employment record.

If the employee addresses the issue within the set time period, the warning generally ceases to have effect.

If by the end of the review period, the employee has been making an effort to improve but is not yet at the standard required, a second written warning may be given but usually with a shorter time period for another review.

Final written warning. If the employee has made no effort to address the issue then a final warning is given. In addition to the details documented in previous warnings, this warning needs to state that employment will be terminated if the employee’s performance or conduct does not improve to an acceptable level by a certain date.

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Gayle Bryant

Gayle has been a financial and business journalist and sub-editor for almost 30 years. She has written for a wide range of newspapers, magazines, custom and trade press and websites. Gayle’s articles regularly appear in the Sydney Morning Herald’s small business section and the Australian Financial Review’s special reports section.

The opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of the author(s) and not necessarily those of Homeloans Ltd.