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7 tips for documenting employee discipline

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in Centerpiece,Leaders & Managers,Office Management,People Management,Records Retention

DiscipliningTrain supervisors to be careful when writing up employees for disciplinary reasons. That’s because how they document discipline issues can cause problems if an employee files a lawsuit. To protect against legal liability, teach bosses to follow these guidelines when documenting employee discipline:

1. Be consistent. Don’t write up one person for a behavior that you ignore in other employees. When in doubt, check to see how similar problems have been documented in the past.

2. Be specific. Example of poor documentation: “Employee was late three times in the past month.” Better: “Employee was 30 minutes late on Feb. 5; reason given: traffic. Employee was 45 minutes late on Feb. 9; reason given: overslept. Employee was an hour late on Feb. 23; reason given: car problems.”

3. Write in a clear, factual manner. Note the policy or procedure that the employee has violated. Date the document, including the year.

4. Avoid emotional content, including personal impressions (“I think …”), labels (“He’s a whiner …”), adjectives (“very unproductive …”) and conclusions about the reasons for the employee’s behavior. (“It’s probably because of her divorce.”)

5. State the consequences if the behavior continues. Example: “If the employee is tardy again this month, he will be fired.”

6. Ask the employee to sign and date the document if it’s going into his or her personnel file. If the employee refuses to sign, note that on the document.

7. Give employees an opportunity to respond in writing and include the response in their files.

What should bosses document?

  • Excessive tardiness, unexcused absences
  • Incompetent job performance
  • Violations of policies, safety rules
  • Physical violence, verbal threats
  • Complaints of sexual harassment or discrimination
  • On-the-job substance abuse.

Document positive performance, too. A file containing nothing but negative comments may look like a setup.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Sylvia June 19, 2019 at 1:03 am

I was written up with out a verbal, is this a valid write up?


Jake Johannesen May 24, 2019 at 9:11 pm

The question about the following situation is…is this illegal?
An employee at my workplace essentially deleted a document which ensured he would split commissions of a sale with someone else, meaning he would receive 100% of the commission. He lied about it, and when was presented with 100% proof continued to lie. After an hour or so and after calling to talk with his husband, he confessed. He was told he’d only be written up if he confessed and not terminated. Now, my manager is choosing to not write him up because he “feels really bad and is really embarrassed about it”. I asked if I’d be written up for doing the same thing and my manager said 100% yes, and likely terminated. I’ve also been told I cant discuss the issue with any co workers. Is it illegal to not write up one employee for behavior another employee would get written up for?


rich June 3, 2019 at 4:13 pm

Sounds like some type of discrimination. Talk to HR about your manager.


Monica February 3, 2019 at 7:44 pm

Can an employer write ataff up then leave it in a drawer for others to see without notification to the person being written up?


Gina Belt January 31, 2019 at 7:31 am

Poor performance or behavior are separate issues. Poor performance is when an employee fails to meet deadlines and unfavorable results on tasks. It’s behavioral when an employee frequently missed deadlines but fails to communicate why there’s going to be a delay in completing tasks. Not complying with work hours or unprofessional behavior are also behavior related. Supervisors must apply the rules equally so if I get on one employee for not following work hours, I get on others. Consistency is key here and to treat all my employees equally regardless of position.

In the government world, if you’re going to do a written reprimand, you best have documentation of repeated attempts of verbal counseling and efforts to correct the issue. I personally record conversations to prevent a he said she said, but check your state for recording laws. Only one person needs to know in my state but it’s on my desk and I turn it on in front of them so…You sould be discussing the issue with the employee, what policy they violated, and how it negatively impacts the organization. You can present the written reprimand then or you can do it hours or the next day, but not a month later unless you literally just found out.

Someone mentioned they went to HR and then we’re written up a month later? That’s retaliation and you can go back to HR. If you have a good company and a good HR, they’ll handle retaliation correctly. We had a manager who treated employees poorly. Finally one employee went to HR when she quit. She didn’t get to see it but her complaint was enough for HR to fix the issue. Managers are not above policy. If your manager violates policies you must follow, then you need to go to HR or their supervisor. Recognize your own failure up front first and explain that the rules aren’t being applied equally or fairly. That’s an HR red flag statement that will be recognized by a good manager. Be prepared to give specific examples of their failure, otherwise it’ll come off as you just complaining.

On another note, I haven’t seen anyone mention ADA accommodations. ADA accommodations don’t give employees a pass on following policies. They are still expected to do the job in which they were hired. Adjustments can be made to how the job gets done but it still has to get done. All other rules still apply. If they still can’t do the job then HR can try to relocated them to a position they can do but if there isn’t one, then they’ll probably be let go. As an employee, you know deep inside what your capable of doing so be honest and realistic. Most supervisors aren’t tools, they just want everyone to do their job. They have lots of work on top of managing their staff and dealing with issues from multiple employees.


Cheyann Delgado January 18, 2019 at 9:53 pm

My supervisor gave me a final for something that happened over a month and a half ago this is after I went to HR and Ethics on them … and they did give me a verbal on the matter once it happened I was told that it would be the end of it when they gave me the verbal.. can they still do that ??


A Will March 3, 2019 at 11:35 pm

What about a policy violation that occurred almost 3 years ago!! Don’t know if the previous question about a month and a half got answered but I would really like to know if this should have taken place at all???


Bea October 22, 2018 at 2:42 pm

I have two coworkers: waitress that work weekends, and they just don’t seem to get along. And are ALWAYS harassing each other … I’m never there on the weekends. But they spam me with messages about what they’re doing and not doing at work. And how they always want to leave early. what should I do ? My boss is never here and I don’t think we have a workers handlers book….


Akira September 9, 2018 at 11:46 pm

I have an opening manager(not the main store manager) in my restaurant who pretty much never fills our the temp logs for their morning shift. Recently I forgot to fill it out for my shift(for the first time) and received a write up. I signed it because it was valid. However I would like to know if it is acceptable for me as a non manager to fill out one of our diciplinary narratives for them.


Tai August 30, 2018 at 2:20 am

Hey my job uses a template for the write up letter head…. And they always leave the examples on there for the areas they are supposed to fill in. Also the times are always inncorrect and they are always pre signed before I receive and view them.

Will they hold up in court?


Patricia Medlock July 11, 2018 at 4:46 pm

This is some helpful information.


Heather F June 4, 2018 at 12:29 pm

After informing my crew that they were no working today, I arrived at work with 2 of them working. They went to another supervisor and she said sure, come on in. I find this behavior inappropriate. Should I write them up?


Saundra Premier August 8, 2018 at 11:55 am

Yes. It was insubordination. Also, if they are hourly employees they just busted your labor costs allowance for that week/month. When you sit down tell them you are their manager/supervisor and are to take direction from you only.


Patti April 1, 2018 at 2:43 am

looking for advice on writing employees up


Susan Williams November 21, 2017 at 1:02 pm

Many managers have been promoted beyond their capabilities and are poor communicators with even worse writing skills. Writing up employees is usually a fall-back for these managers who are in over their heads. A huge percentage of these write-ups could be prevented by using good communication skills and actually listening to the employee and showing them respect.


Esafe Fifita August 23, 2017 at 10:56 pm

I’m foreman and I’m trying to write up one my member of my crew for production work


Christy Hammer July 21, 2017 at 3:41 pm

If an employee was wrongfully written up. What should they do? They were given a task to complete via email and the manager did not give them a specific time or date to have it completed. Only 3 days had passed and the supervisor wrote them up. The employee was very shocked and caught off guard and felt pressure to sign the write up. Afterward the employee went to check his email and verified that there wasn’t a specific date or time given. Can the employee go back to the supervisor and request for the disciplinary action to be removed from their file?


Mike April 26, 2017 at 9:39 am

How long after a violation, do i have before its no longer valid?


Art July 5, 2017 at 9:01 am


It depends on the level of writing. I can generate an memo for record citing negative trending behavior citing several incidents of the course of 6 months (tracked on my calendar I.e. Tardiness/sick leave abuse/cotributing to toxic environment). These type of documents are used to establish the trend, also used for appraisals. When negative trending behavior continues past the memo, time to start having employee sign within 3 days of infraction.


Melanie rose February 3, 2017 at 3:41 pm

Boss threatens to write me up and does not show me or have me sign a write up document.is it a valid write up?


Zorah Williams June 9, 2017 at 4:42 am

No it is not…


sean February 13, 2018 at 10:30 pm

Melanie, no its not valid, if management doesn’t pull you into the office to discuss or sign your write up. Unfortunately, some managers like to threaten write up, without
any intent of issuing one, because they think that will step up the employees job performance. A good supervisor will only threaten write up as last resort, with good reason, and will follow through 100%.


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