How to Write Up an Employee

How to Write Up an Employee

write up at work

For a manager, one of the toughest decisions may be what to do with an employee who isn’t working out. Whether the problem is the employee’s behavior or job performance, firing the employee is probably not the best first step. Maybe the employee and the money invested in the employee’s training can be salvaged.

That’s where an early warning can help. This warning can be verbal but especially in the case of a repeated or incalcitrant problem, a written warning or write-up may be necessary.

What is an employee write-up?

A write-up is a halfway step between a verbal warning and dismissal. It gives the employee a second chance to get it right and protects the employer in any wrongful termination lawsuit.

A write-up addresses issues that:

  • Violate the standards the employer expects the employee to maintain
  • May threaten the solvency of the company.
  • Are illegal.

A write-up is part of the progressive disciplinary process, a process that becomes more intense the longer it fails to produce results. Progressive discipline might begin with a verbal warning (but doesn’t have to) and end with termination.

A write-up usually means a verbal warning did not fix the problem. A write-up is a formal, often more effective warning, another chance to improve before the employee is fired.

Not that an employee write-up is necessarily intended as a prelude to a termination. The purpose of a write-up is a warning, documentation of the behavior or performance issues that threaten an employee’s job, and a road map to how to avoid it.

Why should you write up an employee?

While you don’t necessarily need to give an employee a second chance, doing so can be beneficial. You may find that the employee was unaware of the issue or had not realized how serious the problem was. By allowing the employee to improve their performance, you won't have to go through the process of hiring a replacement.

Additionally, a write-up allows you to document your efforts to address the problem, protecting your business against a lawsuit claiming wrongful termination.

When should you write up an employee?

You should write up an employee promptly, as soon after the offense as possible, when they violate the conditions of their employment. If you wait too long, it might look like you were laying a false trail for a future firing when there was another reason, such as discrimination or a non-work related vendetta.

On the other hand, you want to do it when you are calm. An emotional write-up and presentation might allow the employee to argue a manager's true motivation was based on non-work-related matters such as religion, sexual identity, or a disability.

And be consistent. It looks bad to write up an employee for a policy violation if you ignored similar earlier violations by the same or another employee. Such inconsistency could be interpreted as indicating favoritism, vindictiveness, or that there is another underlying motive.

Valid reasons to write up an employee include:


This occurs when an employee is asked to perform a valid work-related duty that is part of their job, and they refuse to do it.


If an employee has exceeded the number of call-ins or days absent allowed by the company's attendance policy, they should be written up.

Work Performance

An employee may be written up if their work performance is not meeting accepted standards. This includes being late or missing deadlines, or producing subpar work.

Rude behavior

If an employee is being rude, disrespectful, patronizing, or condescending to managers, colleagues, or customers.

Unexcused Tardiness

If an employee habitually arrives late to work without an acceptable excuse.

No Call/No Show

If an employee fails to show up for work without notifying their supervisor beforehand.


If an employee is not following safety protocols or working in an unsafe manner, they should be written up.


If an employee is not following safety protocols and proper procedures or is being careless with their work, that could lead to accidents and costly mistakes.


Any type of violence, including physical or verbal aggression, should be met with immediate corrective action. The only exception is if an employee acts in self-defense.


Harassment of any kind, including physical or verbal behavior that is intimidating, hostile, and/or offensive.

What to include in an employee write-up

Your write-up form should include a space for the following:

  • The name of the company
  • The names of the individuals making and presenting the write-up.
  • The name and position of the employee being written up.
  • The date and time when the incidents occurred, when the warning was written, and when it was presented to the employee.
  • Details of the specific issue involved (such as what happened, whether it was an issue of behavior or performance when it happened, and other circumstances), preferably drawn from the employee handbook that the employee read and signed upon being hired.
  • Any corroborating witness statements.
  • What actions the employee must take, and by when.
  • What will happen if the employee doesn’t take these actions.

Examples of write-up forms

There is no universal or standard write-up form, but there are many templates on the internet, including on these sites:

How to present a write-up to the employee

The process of writing up an employee is a task that most managers dread because it can be an uncomfortable and awkward conversation. But it is necessary to keep things running smoothly, so you should approach the situation with care and respect.

Here are some tips on presenting a write-up to an employee:

Do it when you’re calm

As we mentioned before, the main goal of a write-up is to help the employee to correct their behavior. Therefore, it is important that you approach the situation calmly and respectfully, even if the employee has violated company policy or caused a problem.

Otherwise, the employee may become defensive or angry, and the conversation could become counterproductive.

Bring a witness along

When you present the write-up, it's important to bring a witness. This could be someone from HR or another manager who can help ensure that the conversation was conducted respectfully and that the employee was aware of the expectations.

Schedule some time for discussion

Presenting an employee write-up is also a good time to have a dialogue with the employee. Listen to their side of the story and allow them to ask questions.

Keep a copy for your records

After going over the write-up with the employee, make sure to ask them to sign it. Once they have signed the document, make a copy for your own records. This will be important if the employee does not take action or violates company policy again.

Follow up

Following up is the most important part of the process. Make sure to check in with the employee at regular intervals and provide them with feedback on their progress. However, it's important to remember that improvement may take time, so patience is important.

Other Tips for Writing Up an Employee

  • Don’t exaggerate or downplay the seriousness of the problem. That could harm your credibility.
  • Don’t embellish. The write-up should be concise, purely factual, and to the point.
  • Don’t drag in irrelevancies, such as legal conclusions, insults, or character judgment. Stick to the salient facts.
  • Don’t prepare the write-up or deliver it while you are angry. Wait a day if necessary, to calm down
  • Don’t wait for more than a day or so. That could suggest it wasn’t that urgent or that you have another motive.
  • Present the write-up in person (or in a virtual meeting such as via Zoom or Skype) and get a signature, video, or other proof that the employee received it.)
  • Keep a copy of the write-up and documentation in the employee’s file and your files in case you need it.
  • If you set a deadline for the employee’s improvement, be sure to follow up.


Is refusing to sign a write-up insubordination?

Yes, refusing to sign can be insubordination or misconduct. That alone could be cause for dismissal. It may even be a reason to deny the employee unemployment insurance

If firing the employee is your goal, refusal to sign is enough. If you’re trying to fix or improve an employee, however, find out why they won’t sign and make accommodations, such as:

  • If they fear signing means, they agree with the assessment, include language stating their signature only means they acknowledge receiving the write-up.
  • Allow them to make a brief written statement of their own with the signature.
  • Include a line for a third party to sign indicating that they were there when the employee received the write-up and it was explained to them.

Do you have to give a verbal warning before a written warning?

A verbal warning is usually given before a written warning, but there are few universal standards. Generally, a written warning is made when the employee is closer to termination than a verbal warning.

Technically, neither is necessary. An employee can be fired without either, especially if the misconduct is criminal or has otherwise damaged the business.

However, such a quick firing might give the impression that the employer has not treated the employee fairly and has not given them a chance to improve or correct their behavioral or performance issues. If the case ends up in court, that could hurt the company’s case.

How can OnTheClock help you to document employee write-ups?

OnTheClock allows you to keep track of your employee's attendance and performance in an organized way. With its real-time tracking system, you can quickly and easily document employee time and track any changes in performance.

OnTheClock Employee Time Tracking

Written by

OnTheClock Team

OnTheClock is the perfect app for business that want to keep track of their employees' time without spending hours doing it. With OnTheClock, you can forget about the old way of doing things.

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