A key document in an employee’s personnel file is a well-drafted written memo, if you want to strengthen your defense against an employee-initiated action. Most written warnings and disciplinary memos are inadequate because they fail to include several very important elements.

Elements to Include

Whether you have to defend against an undeserved unemployment insurance claim or against a wrongful discharge lawsuit, you want to include the following items in warning and disciplinary memos:

1. A subject heading, such as “Written Warning.”

2. Date and time of warning or action.

3. Name of the employee involved.

4. Job title of the employee.

5. Name of the person giving the warning or taking the action.

6. Job title of the person giving the warning or taking the action.

7. Person or persons to whom copies are given.

8. Policy of the employer relating to the incident or subject, and/or the behavior or performance expected of the employee.

9. The specific incident causing the warning or action. Be specific with date, time, and what took place.

10. Behavior which should have taken place. The behavior change required. Be specific.

11. What actions can result from further incorrect behavior by the employee and the consequences if the employee does not change.

12. Signature of the person giving the warning or taking the action.

13. Date received by the employee.

14. Signature of the employee receiving the warning or action. (Note: If the employee refuses to sign, suggest the employee write down on the memo the reason or reasons for refusing to sign. This statement in the employee’s own script — whether three words or a long paragraph — is solid evidence proving the employee received and understood the contents of the memo.)

15. The signature of a witness to the meeting with the employee and the statements made in the meeting.

Sample Written Warning

Subject: Written Warning

Date: Nov. 17, 2005 at 1:30 p.m.

To: Jane Row, Stock Clerk

From: Betty Fram, Stock Supervisor

Copies to: Hank Black, Dept. Mgr. and Mary Grey, Personnel Director


Jane, our policy in this company is for you to call in to work at least one hour before start of your scheduled work time when you will be late or sick or can’t come in. You are to talk directly to your supervisor or someone else in charge.

On Wednesday, Nov. 16, you didn’t call in to say you were unable to come in. You showed up for work late today, at 11 a.m., with no explanation. You should have called in both yesterday and today to let your supervisor know you would not be in on Wednesday and would be late today.

This is the third time this year you have done this. I have warned you verbally before. The incidents yesterday and today are serious enough to cause me to issue this warning: the next time you miss work without calling in as our policy requires you will be self-terminated.


(Signature of Betty Fram) Nov. 17, 2005

Received by: (Signature of Jane Row) Nov. 17, 2005

(Signature of Antonio Tomaro, Witness), Nov. 17, 2005