One of the hardest set of duties for any human resources professional or business leader is disciplining and letting go of employees. There are plenty of good reasons to write up and fire employees – poor performance, attendance issues, ethical breaches, or criminal activities – but it’s never an easy task, emotionally or professionally.
It’s obvious why discipline is the least favourite duty of many leaders. Empathy and fear of confrontation can trip up even the most prepared of us in the midst of the most justified disciplinary action. But what makes it so hard from a professional perspective is a little different – and that’s compliance. Every disciplinary action, from verbal warnings, to write ups, to severance, should be justified, documented, and in compliance with regulations and company policy. Because if those boxes aren’t checked, you might be in for trouble in the form of lawsuits or audits – the kind of thing that can break a small business.
Big business often have the advantage when it comes to compliance, with thick policy documents and teams of lawyers on call, but that doesn’t mean your situation is hopeless – what you need, to begin building out your policies around employee discipline, severance, and performance tracking, is to adopt a set of templates. Today I’m going to walk you through some simple write up templates that will make disciplinary meetings easier and make your records clear and consistent.
Key Elements for Employe Write Up Templates
There are thousands of free employee write up templates available online and through publishing applications like Word, Pages and the Adobe suite. But how can you tell which one is best suited for your needs?
Write up templates need to include, at minimum, the following 8 pieces of information:
- Employe name
- The date of the disciplinary action
- The purpose of the form and meeting it records
- What stage in the disciplinary progression the write up represents and information on previous warnings
- A detailed description of the problem
- Guidance and a timeline for correcting the problem
- Signatures and dates of both the employee and their supervisor
Treat It a Bit Like a Contract
Notice that the list of essential information for an employee write up includes standard information like names, dates and signatures? That’s because you absolutely cannot neglect them. A write up isn’t a contract but you should treat it as a serious agreement between the company and your employee. Most write up templates look a bit like a contract, even if they’re missing pages of legalese, and that’s because the form confers a sense of seriousness.
When you describe the problem and how it should be corrected, you can make reference to other documents you have on file like an employee handbook, a code of conduct, or even their contract. (You do have an employee handbook, don’t you? If not, get started with one with this guide.) This reminds both you and the employee of your respective obligations and emphasizes that all of these have been put down in writing. (Seriously, put it all down in writing and then file it.)
Reflecting Progressive Discipline
A write-up shouldn’t be the first time you speak to your employee about a problem (it should come after at least one verbal warning) and your description on the problem should reflect that. Make it clear in your records that multiple attempts have been made to address the issue with your employee but it has yet to be resolved, and include a path to do just that.
Progressive discipline, where you gradually work your way up from verbal warnings, to written warnings, to more drastic action, is about fixing the problem, not about getting even with a problem employee. As their supervisor you should be making a good faith effort to help them improve their performance or correct the problem behaviour and that should be reflected in the paperwork.
When I worked in retail, knowing that I had to fill out the paperwork and document every disciplinary conversation with employees kept me honest and on top of things. I didn’t let things slide, problems got solved quicker and I never had to worry about not being able to back up the decision to let someone go.
Be Professional and Don’t Discriminate
A write up is a formal document and you should treat it that way. Don’t include personal biases or irrelevant information on a write up, or bring them up in a disciplinary meeting. For example, don’t infer that their continual lateness is obviously caused by their children, a sick family member or because they’re an irresponsible kid. In developing a performance improvement plan you should work with them and their challenges but keep one hand on that employee handbook (that you definitely developed, right?) and don’t get too personal.
If you’re behaving completely above board and writing up an employee for the right reasons, your documentation should and will reflect that.
4 Great, Free Write Up Templates
A quick Google search will make it clear that there are thousands of free employee write up templates available online. Which template you adopt should depend on the kind of business you run and what level of detail you think you’ll need to record in your write up documentation.
For example, if you tend to have clear cut discipline issues (lateness, uniform violations and failure to perform duties) you may want a simple but official looking form that employees will quickly recognize from previous jobs.
Other businesses that encounter more complex discipline problems may want to avoid simple checklists and opt for open-ended templates or letters of reprimand. If the problems at your business aren’t easily condensed to a top five list, a form may not be for you.
Here are 4 employee write up templates that you can download for free and even adapt as needed.
- Fit Small Business has a very simple write up template that is a great place to start, along with guidance on what to include and what not to include in your documentation
- Template.net has an archive of more formal templates free to download, including a performance review template that you can use to track improvement
- The Balance has an excellent letter of reprimand template that allows you to get very detailed in your write up
- LegalForms.org has another good formal template that is a great start for small businesses
When you’re ready to choose a write up template, make sure to read it over carefully and pick the one that’s best suited to your business particular needs.