A formal written warning is basically a letter which will sit on their file for future reference that outlines the performance concerns and an action plan of what the employee needs to do.
There is no legal requirement to provide a formal written warning (or a certain number of formal written warnings) before terminating someone but when considering unfair dismissal claims, Fair Work does consider if the employee was aware of the issue and if they were given an opportunity to improve or change their behaviour.
Before heading into a formal written warning, you should try and resolve the issue informally or with verbal warnings. We’ve outlined the steps for a more informal process in an earlier blog. But sometimes you have to take the next step, you need to move on to something more serious like a formal written warning.
The Formal Warning Letter Process
1. Schedule a meeting
When delivering a formal written warning, it’s best to do it during a meeting with the employee. You should let the employee know what the meeting is about so they can prepare and offer them the opportunity to have a support person present. The meeting should follow the same format as the formal written warning letter.
The first thing to include is details for the written warning. Outline the exact issue or details of performance, being as specific as you can. If you’ve had previous meetings about the issue, then outline when and where those meetings occurred as well as the details of the meeting you had over the formal written warning letter.
2. Next steps
You then need to outline what you, as the employer, are expecting the employee to do next. If you already have set goals or targets, mention those in the letter but make sure that they aren’t discriminatory and are able to be independently measured. If you are expecting the employee to come back to you with a plan for improvement, make sure you specify the date that you want to see this by. Don’t forget to also include any assistance that you will provide to the employee to help them improve their performance or behaviour.
3. Check understanding
After you handed over the formal written warning, you should check that the employee has read it and understood the warning. Provide them an opportunity to ask questions or to arrange a follow-up meeting the next day. Remember, they might be emotional so try and keep to the facts as much as you possibly can.
4. Keep everything on record
Make sure you keep a copy of the letter for your records and, at the end of the meeting, make some notes of what happened while it’s fresh in your mind. While these might not be required, it’s always good to have something to refer back to in case things escalate.
Employment Hero offers templated Formal Written Warning letters that are constantly reviewed by our Employment Specialists to help you get started. These templates also facilitate a paperless performance management experience where you can send the letter immediately after your meeting. This makes sure your team member understands the areas for improvement, with timelines and measures for delivery. Moreover, it is added to their employee file for both your reference and their reference.
HR Compliance is a must for any business. And have the correct procedures in place for employee management is just the tip of the iceberg.
If you’re unsure about what to include in your formal written warning or any legal obligations, it’s always best to discuss it with an expert. Or, simply download our Essential Guide to HR Compliance above. ☝️ For free advice from the dedicated team at Employment Hero.
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Alex Hattingh is the Chief People Officer at Employment Hero and she has over 15 years experience in people management. Alex derives energy and passion from helping both companies and their employees succeed. Alex’s roles have covered large Fortune 500 companies through to start-ups.