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Although most employment is “at-will" employers are expected to have reasonable grounds for terminating an employee. Dismissing an employee for misconduct especially requires a formal inquiry process including previous warnings and an opportunity for the employee to make amends, unless the offence is of a very serious nature such as forged documents, drug use on the job, embezzlement and other crimes that warrant instant dismissal.
For performance or attitude related misconduct, most large and medium scale organizations follow a documented disciplinary mechanism that incorporates several warnings, disciplinary committees and fact-finding missions, and interventions such as training support or counseling to help the employee before the matter reaches terminations. Still, there is no hard and fast rule regarding such elaborate procedures, and a company may simply opt to provide one warning letter and then summarily dismiss the employee on repeat of the misconduct.
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The Warning Letter
Initial warning letters serve as a formal record to make an employee aware of his or her misconduct or unacceptable behavior. First, the employee becomes aware of a problematic issue. These warnings also shows the manager has inquired and talked to the employee in person, and conveys clearly the behavior or performance standards expected from them. The warning letter comes at the end of the process, to document the issue in the employee file, and to provide a legal basis for future dismissal should the employee challenge his or her dismissal in court.
A final warning letter is a last chance given for the employee to make amends. Employers usually terminate the employee without any further notice if the employee displays the same behavior even after receiving this final warning.
Labor laws do not specify the number of warning letters an employer has to serve, or that the employer has to serve a specific warning letter. The number of letters, the format, and the process depends on your in-house policy, or precedents adopted by the company. Often, the final warning letter may actually be the only warning letter.
The HR department would do well to meet the employee in person to discuss the issue at hand, and work out a program to resolve the problem. A first letter of warning may accompany or follow this meeting. Many companies repeat this process for a second time if the issue persists, and the third repetition becomes the final attempt before summary dismissal.
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The final warning letter, though not a mandatory legal document, nevertheless plays an important part in proceedings if the dismissed employee drags the matter to the court. The employer needs to convince the court that it made it clear to the employee the specific action, behavior or performance is unacceptable, and provided them with sufficient opportunity to make amends. The final warning letter is the best document to highlight such an attempt from the employers’ part, but the employer may also convey such effort without a warning letter.
A good final warning letter includes:
- Full details of the employees action or behavior deemed unacceptable, including dates and time of occurrence, if relevant.
- Why the action or behavior is deemed unacceptable, such as whether any specific company policy or law forbids it, and the loss or obstructions faced by company owing to such actions.
- Chronological listing of repeated offenses n the same category.
- Chronological listing of previous warnings and meetings related to the issue, and any attempt such as training or counseling provided to the employee.
- A clear mention that the letter is the final warning and that repeat offenses would lead to termination without notice, or whatever the intended action.
While each separate misconduct or performance related issue requires a separate disciplinary action process, the final warning can be a single document collating different issues. When a major misconduct reaches a point that warrants a final warning letter, other misconduct may also find mention in such a final letter even if such misconduct by itself does not warrant such a letter.
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A Free Sample
Download a free and generic sample of employee final warning notice from the Bright Hub Media Gallery. This is a standard template and does not readily suit all situations. Use the guidelines above to make the necessary changes in the body of the text. Make sure your lawyer or legal teams review the letter.
It's essential you only record the truth. For instance, if the employer has not given any previous warnings or offered any training, counseling or other assistance, do not state so just because the format includes it.
Prepare the letter in duplicate. Deliver the letter to the employee in recorded post, or deliver in person and make the employee sign the copy. Preserve the copy and any delivery receipt in the employee file. It's also important to note if the employee refuses to sign the final warning to write on the employee signature line "employee refused to sign" and have a witness sign attesting to the same.