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I am often asked by clients what is the proper way to complete a written warning, so it is acceptable when it comes to unemployment. Some employers use shorthand because they are writing it, so they figure, I understand, so what is the problem? Other employers put so much information within the written warning that it becomes confusing to folks who read it. The other issue I see a lot is that employers don’t always issue warnings in a timely manner. Warnings should ALWAYS be issued around the time the violation happens and not weeks after the fact. I recall a client I was speaking with, and when I asked him if he had issued warnings to the employee, his response was that he had all the warnings in his desk. They were never issued to the employee; rather, he wrote them up and stored them in his desk in case he needed them later. This is NOT the way it should be handled! I am going to provide you with some pretty simple steps to follow so you don’t run into these types of issues.

  1. When a policy violation takes place, it should be issued in a timely manner. If an infraction occurs over the weekend and you are not coming into the office until Monday, it is okay to issue it upon your return but don’t wait!
  2. Completely fill out the write-up!
    • Include the date of the infraction
    • Spell out EXACTLY what happened
    • I also recommend that you include the specific rule that was violated
    • Be sure to list what step the write-up is for, such as verbal, written, final written
    • The person who is issuing the warning should also sign and date the warning
    • The employee MUST sign the document to prove that it was received!!!
    • If the employee refuses to sign, have another manager present to sign as a witness that it was, in fact, issued to the employee.
    • Always provide the employee an opportunity to make a statement or write their opinion of what happened on the form if there is space for employee comments.

I want to touch on a few of the bulleted items above as some of you might be thinking, I will never get the employee to sign the warning, or I don’t want them to write on the warning because they are simply going to say it is not true or that isn’t the way it happened. Your goal here is to get them to acknowledge receipt of the write-up. If you are issuing the write-up, you already have your “proof” of what happened. Let them say what they want about the infraction as their opinion doesn’t negate the warning.

What do I do if the employee refuses to sign the warning?

  1. You can tell the employee that by signing, they are only acknowledging receipt of the write-up and not that they agree with it.
  2. If they still refuse, tell them to write “refused to sign” and initial it. This IS an acknowledgment, and we can use that as well.
  3. Give them an opportunity to write their side of the story. This is also an acknowledgment and will be helpful in the unemployment process.
  4. If the employee still refuses, have another manager come into the room and explain that you are issuing the warning to the employee, and they have refused to sign and that you need them to sign that they witnessed the write-up being issued. This person may be needed as a witness for the unemployment hearing if it reaches that level.

Employers are typically hesitant to allow the employee to make a written statement on the write-up itself. They feel that the employee will deny the incident or offer some kind of excuse as to why they violated policy. I disagree with this opinion, and here is why. Just like a resignation letter, the employee will be held to whatever statement they make on that document. For instance, if the employee says that he was on time for work but that his key didn’t work, you might have video footage of them arriving late. Therefore, that argument is out the window. Maybe he says “Joe” had the same issue with his key, but you spoke with “Joe,” and he stated he had no problems getting in the door. By allowing the employee to make a statement, it provides you with an opportunity to investigate further as to the reasons the employee provided. This is extremely helpful to the employer as you are prepared to address these issues should they come up in an unemployment hearing.

The last thing I will leave you with is very simple. Try to avoid subjective statements in all your documentation and use objective statements. Subjective statements are based on opinion or personal feelings, such as, Jim was late again after we have discussed this time and time again. It is clear he just doesn’t want to work. An objective statement would be Jim arrived at work 20 minutes late. He received a final written warning on December 15th and was informed at that time if he had one more violation for time and attendance, his employment would be terminated.

The most important thing to remember in all of this is that it is NOT personal!!! Although the employee might try to make it seem that way, you are just following the policy. Employers are expected to follow the policy just like employees. The employees are made aware of the policies at the time of hire, and the expectation is for them to follow the rules or risk termination. It is within their control to maintain employment!


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