A letter of reprimand is an official document that can be issued by an employer to an employee for misconduct or unsatisfactory performance.
It serves as a formal warning and is used to inform the employee that their actions are not acceptable and must be corrected.
The letter should include clear details about what the behavior was, how it violated company policies, and any consequences that may result from future occurrences.
Additionally, it should provide guidance on how the employee can improve their behavior moving forward.
Receiving a letter of reprimand can be a difficult experience and can have a lasting impact.
With that in mind, it’s often best for employers to use this experience to offer support and guidance while correcting an action.
This article takes a closer look at how to get the most out of letters of reprimand.
What is the purpose of a reprimand letter?
Letters of reprimand are used as disciplinary actions by employers, team leaders, and superior managers.
A letter of reprimand, sometimes called a warning letter, successfully communicates to an employee that they need to alter some aspect of their work behavior, i.e., anything from employee performance to their teamwork ethic, insubordination, and similar.
The main goal of a written reprimand letter is to suggest corrective action and prevent (further) undesirable conduct.
Because reprimands are almost always given due to a policy violation, this documentation formally records an employee’s negative action and can be used to build a case toward termination.
When someone acts unfavorably, the reprimand is observed as a warning letter or a first penalty.
Here are some common reasons for writing this type of letter.
1. Being late
If someone in your department routinely arrives late, you may want to consider issuing a formal warning for excessive tardiness.
2. Being absent
Taking too much time away from work might result in missed assignments and unsatisfactory results.
It could also have a detrimental impact on the employee’s department or team, suggesting urgent employee performance improvement is critical.
3. Inappropriate behavior
An individual’s behavior affects the workplace’s entire culture and climate. If someone in your business misbehaves, it might impact others.
In this circumstance, writing a reprimand letter can assist in setting forth progressive discipline, which can help prevent similar occurrences from happening again.
4. Misuse of equipment
If an employee isn’t sure how to properly utilize corporate equipment despite repeated training, a written employee reprimand is sent as an official warning.
5. Failure to follow a protocol
Each job has its own set of standards.
A written warning emphasizes the significance of adhering to job-specific regulations.
6. Avoiding company meetings
Meetings are vital for employees to receive critical information about your firm and they should not be missed.
If an employee consistently misses meetings but gets defensive or starts rebuttals when confronted, you need to take action.
In most cases, the reprimand process begins when a notice is sent to human resources informing them of a policy violation.
Typically, the notice is an email detailing the nature of the behavior, along with any relevant evidence or a summary of events.
HR then confers with managerial staff at appropriate levels to determine the correct course of action.
This may (or may not!) result in a formal reprimand letter with the employee’s name and other data being entered into an employee’s personnel file.
Smaller organizations may not have a designated individual to handle human resource issues.
If that’s the case, small business owners and managers will need to make due, but it’s important not to overlook and maintain a paper trail to prove termination with cause and avoid potential lawsuits.
How to write a reprimand letter
Warning letters/reprimand letters are essential for communicating concerns and prompting rapid changes among your team members.
You can transmit your message effectively by writing your letter directly, which becomes necessary after verbal communication fails and more formal actions must be taken.
Here are a few strategies to make sure your intentions are clear:
01. Address your concern informally
Before you start composing a letter of reprimand, first think about the goal and importance of such an action.
A friendly discussion or informal email is best before any formal meeting unless an employee’s actions are very serious.
Talk to your employee and review their information. Is this individual a hard worker? Is there a record in their file of past incidents or similar situations?
A persistent behavior or performance issue may require more decisive action, since informal discussions have likely already taken place.
In most cases, it is appropriate to delay the issuance of a warning letter until a pattern has been established.
Some organizations use a two or three-strike policy before issuing a formal warning or mandating an official disciplinary action.
Even if you’re dealing with this issue informally, it’s still a good idea to keep a record of your interactions, even if it’s just a quick email to a supervisor or an HR representative to notify them of the action taken.
While these comments usually never leave the inbox, they can serve as a paper trail to pinpoint actions taken if the problem continues to escalate.
02. Keep the goal of your letter specific
As a manager, you want your team to succeed.
As such, any feedback or direction you give should be clear and uncomplicated for the individual receiving it.
Therefore the first lines of your correspondence should be direct and professional, with them stating why the letter is being sent.
Here are some ways that will help make sure that intention is clear:
- Indicate that the letter you are sending is a formal reprimand letter.
- Include dates of any informal warnings or talks you’ve previously held with the employee.
- Give the date of the unfavorable event that took place.
- Note that this documentation is in direct response to an event or policy violation.
03. Cite the company’s policies
After describing the person’s behavior, cite the applicable company policy. Be as specific as possible.
Provide a direct reference to the policy or procedures that have been violated and describe how those violations occurred.
The content of the letter should be clear and unambiguous in order to avoid any confusion regarding what has occurred and why the employee’s current behavior is unacceptable.
This not only clarifies your expectations for them but also provides an understanding of how your company deals with this issue on a more severe level.
For example, if your company has a strict policy against racial intolerance and your employee has been making racial slurs around, they need to get a warning to stop this behavior.
04. Specify any adjustments that are required
After you’ve covered the incident and the policy, take the time to indicate the changes you need to see from your employee.
Set clear expectations regarding actions that must be taken, and mention that continued violations to the policies will have a negative, lasting impact regarding their future with the organization.
The goal of this section isn’t to threaten an employee.
Instead, set clear expectations, deadlines, and goals to steer employees away from an unacceptable trajectory.
Often, when individuals know exactly what they need to do, they perform better in their role.
In this case, specifying timelines and expectations sets a metric by which the employee can be measured against at a later date.
05. Describe the next steps
Once you’ve provided expectations for the future, provide a clear idea of what should happen next.
You can describe the ramifications of future incidents or specify a deadline by which you expect to see proof from the other party.
Steps may include:
- Reviewing company policies.
- Issuing a formal apology to offended parties.
- Taking time away from the company.
- Enrollment in training courses.
- Adjusting schedules and working hours.
- Handing off projects to other individuals.
- Meeting with other managers/employees in a formal setting.
This is a very important section because it transforms your letter from formal warning to a document with professional objectives to be delivered in time and with facts as evidence.
However, keep in mind that letters of reprimand will vary due to the nature and severity of the violation.
It’s unlikely that you would reprimand perpetual tardiness in the same way that you might reprimand acts of racism, bigotry, or sexual harassment.
Adjust your action plans as necessary to fit the nature of the offense and the company’s position of such wrongdoing.
06. End on a positive note
The final paragraphs of your letter should be positive and emphasize the importance of coming to an agreement on a company-related issue.
Your tone should convey trust in their capacity to resolve your case.
Try to set the person’s mind at ease after discussing policy or protocols by expressing something pleasant about their work performance.
A positive message is more encouraging, and it’s more likely to seem collaborative, than if you ended your letter with a negative consequence.
07. Sign the letter
To conclude and finalize a letter of reprimand, you need to date the letter and sign your name.
This will show that it is important to you personally as the sender.
Getting someone to sign a letter of reprimand might be challenging at times.
If your organization wants an employee signature, signing the letter yourself may persuade the individual you manage to reciprocate.
The easiest way? An e-signature!
Besides providing well-crafted, multi-purpose templates, PandaDoc offers seamless electronic signature software that will help improve your doc the speed and security of your doc signing.
What to avoid in a reprimand letter?
While there is no one right way to write a letter of reprimand, you’ll need to avoid certain elements in order to keep things civil and polite.
Because this is a formal document, you’re speaking with the voice and authority of the company to one of its employees.
With that in mind, avoid the following language:
- Emotional or disparaging comments, harsh language.
- “Legal conclusions” about harassment, discrimination, or retaliation could be seen as an admission of liability on the company’s part.
- Language that could be interpreted as overly litigious rather than amicable and constructive.
- Supporting documentation that may be seen as overly excessive or unnecessary.
- Threats or aggressive commentary that may escalate the situation.
- Judgemental statements about the individual rather than their work performance.
- Immediate ultimatums that are unrealistic or impossible to achieve.
Although the context of the reprimand letter can vary — here’s a sample letter of reprimand you can use:
[State, ZIP Code]
[State, ZIP Code]
[Subject: Letter of Reprimand]
This is an official written reprimand for your failure to perform the functions of your position appropriately, which has led to a violation of confidentiality rights.
On [date], you revealed information that was shared with you in confidence by one employee to other employees.
This is a violation of our discretionary policy ([Policy Number]), which indicates that information shared in confidence with members of our leadership team must be kept private and confidential to maintain the safety and trust of our employees and our business operations.
This is not appropriate behavior.
Even if the employee had not specified that the shared information is confidential, discussing these matters with another employee is a failure on your part to perform your expected management role. The severity of this action warrants disciplinary action and could lead to your eventual termination if steps are not taken to improve.
You were previously reprimanded for a similar violation on [date], and these concerns were expressed informally to you verbally by [Supervisor Name] in a follow-up conversation.
This letter formally recognizes your second violation of this policy.
I would like to remind you again of the importance of safeguarding any confidential information that your role requires.
As an employee that has been entrusted with management responsibilities, you are expected to exercise good judgment. The future of this business relies on the diligence you demonstrate in carrying out your duties.
Take some time in the coming days to review our training documentation regarding confidentiality and safeguarding information. A list of training courses you should review will be delivered to your email inbox, along with a copy of this letter for your records.
If we find out you violate our confidence in your ability to carry out any of your expected managerial roles, we will be forced to take additional disciplinary action up to and including the possibility of terminating your employment.
A copy of this reprimand will be added to your official personnel file.
cc: [Name of copy recipient]*
*Listing your title, enclosures and adding someone in the cc: of the email is optional.
Tips for making your delivery more effective
Handling reprimand letters or verbal reprimands is stressful for everyone involved.
Here are a few tips to help ease the process:
- Take action quickly but gently.
- Don’t just talk; take time to listen.
- Allow yourself enough time to answer.
- Make an appointment for a follow-up.
- Take care of the situation in private.
- Concentrate on actions or behaviors rather than attitudes.
- Be specific and avoid dilution of your message.
- Hold everyone to the same level of accountability.
- Take notes on the conversation/document it.
- Offer assistance and remedial actions where appropriate.
How to write a response to the letter of reprimand?
If you’ve received a letter of reprimand and you would like to respond to your manager, there are a few guidelines to follow.
Here’s an outline of addressing a letter of reprimand properly:
- Acknowledge receipt of the letter.
- Objection to the incident in a non-defensive tone, and explain your side.
- Mention that you have reviewed the company’s documents.
- Suggest having a meeting to discuss the issue further.
Here’s a sample response letter of reprimand you can use to put together your own:
[State, ZIP Code]
[State, ZIP Code]
[Subject: Summarizes the intention of the letter]
I’m disappointed that this situation has spiraled out of control, and I apologize for any confusion or inconvenience this has caused.
However, I must take exception to the claim that I violated the company’s policy.
I reviewed our policy information and have compared it to the documentation pertaining to our company’s business practices.
I’m aware of the rules, and I’ve always acted appropriately as I’m fully aware that the company takes a dim view of infringement, particularly in the manner you have described.
I request a meeting with our human resources department to discuss this subject in greater detail. I would appreciate you taking part in the meeting, too.
Looking forward to hearing from you,
cc: [Name of copy recipient]*
*Listing your title, enclosures and adding someone in the cc: of the email is optional.
What is a verbal reprimand?
A verbal reprimand is a form of discipline typically used in the workplace or other formal settings.
It is an expression of disapproval, usually delivered by a supervisor or manager as part of an effort to correct inappropriate behaviors or actions.
The purpose of a verbal reprimand is to inform an employee that their behavior has been deemed unacceptable and must be addressed immediately.
There are two types of verbal warnings: Informal and formal verbal warnings.
Informal verbal reprimand
Informal reprimands are often nothing more than a quiet conversation between an employee and their line manager.
Often, reprimands of this type are conducted in an attempt to promptly and peacefully handle a minor issue of misconduct with an employee.
A verbal reprimand can refer to poor performance, too, or any other issue without resorting to formal disciplinary processes.
Formal verbal reprimand
A formal verbal reprimand is an official warning that is issued to a person for a specific behavior or action.
This type of reprimand is typically used after an information reprimand but prior to an official letter of reprimand is issued.
Formal reprimands should be delivered in a professional manner with clear expectations of change.
It is important to note that a formal verbal reprimand may have long-term consequences if not addressed properly, so it should be taken seriously.
What should a verbal warning letter include?
A verbal warning letter is somewhere between a verbal warning and a formal letter of reprimand.
It establishes a paper trail by noting that a verbal warning has been delivered but without counting as harshly against an employee.
This type of letter should include each of the following:
- Confirmation that a verbal warning has been issued.
- The reason for the warning, including the degree to which any wrongdoing or poor performance has been established.
- Confirmation that the employer has decided to take disciplinary action in response (issuing a formal verbal warning).
- Clarity regarding anticipated repercussions of continued misconduct or failure to improve performance, including escalated warnings and/or final termination.
- What behavioral adjustments or performance gains must be completed within a specific timeframe.
A verbal warning letter is often the last step in the informal disciplinary process and the first step toward documented improvement procedures.
Many organizations skip this step entirely and may move directly from an informal reprimand to a formal letter of reprimand with no steps in between.
How long is the verbal warning usually in effect?
The duration of a verbal warning will vary between employers, as well as the flexibility in their disciplinary policies.
An informal warning may not place any restrictions on the employee at all.
Formal warnings, both verbal and written, may last for a number of days or weeks as supervisors monitor employee actions for improvement.
Unionized employees may also have a right to appeal both verbal and written warnings if they feel the reprimand is unfair.
Reprimanding employees will never be comfortable. However, when handled appropriately, it can be beneficial for everyone.
Before writing your official letter of reprimand, talk to your employee informally to address the issue and see if things can be resolved that way.
If that doesn’t work, write a letter focusing on the issue and how it disagrees with its policies.
However, even while reprimanding, do your best to make your employees feel appreciated and valued.
A reprimand is a bump in the road, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the relationship.
Be specific about your expectations and the deadlines you expect from the employee.
And, of course, end things on a positive note!
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Originally published March 24, 2022, updated February 3, 2023