You've just caught one of your employees doing something they shouldn't have. Maybe they’ve just lost their temper on a co-worker or you’ve caught them slacking off on a project one too many times. No matter what the reason, you need to address the situation and let the employee know that their behavior is not okay.
And this is where the letter of reprimand can come in—the disciplinary document that no employer or manager wants to draft, but unfortunately has to deliver at some point.
Writing a reprimand letter can be an unnerving task, which is why we’ve created a guide to walk you through the process. We'll give you tips on what to include, how to phrase things in a way that will be most effective, and how to efficiently deliver the letter during the age of remote work.
What is a reprimand letter and why is it used?
A letter of reprimand is a formal letter that's sent to an employee who has violated a company's policies or code of conduct. After coaching and verbal warnings, it's usually the next step in the disciplinary process. The purpose of this written reprimand is to provide the employee in question with specific details about what they’ve done wrong and the consequences for future violations. It also supplies all relevant parties with documentation of the incident in case the need ever arises to address the situation again, especially if the unfavorable behavior continues.
A letter of reprimand should be clear, concise, and professional, but it’s also important to remember that you're writing this letter for the benefit of both the employee and your company. At the end of the day, you want to see your employee succeed in their role so that they can keep bringing value to your business.
What should be included in a reprimand letter?
A letter of reprimand should include any necessary information related to the incident, including the date, the specifics of what happened, the reasons why the employee’s behavior is unacceptable, and what will happen in the future if the inappropriate behavior isn’t corrected.
With that said, let's take a closer look at the anatomy of a letter of reprimand.
How should a reprimand letter be structured?
When you sit down to write a letter of reprimand, it's important to structure it in a way that makes it easy for your reader to understand. Here's a suggested format to follow:
Beginning the letter
Before fully jumping in, you should start the letter by properly addressing the employee by their full name and including the date that you are delivering the letter.
State the purpose of the letter.
Your introductory statement should be about 1-2 sentences long, briefly telling the employee that they have been delivered a letter of reprimand for a certain offense.
Outline the incident.
Here you can get a little more specific. Include dates, times, and places where the incident occurred. You want to provide enough detail so that your employee understands and recalls the offense, but don’t let your language get bogged down by any unnecessary information or personal sentiments. Keep it factual and professional.
Explain why the offending behavior is unacceptable.
Again, be specific but get to the heart of the issue. Provides reasons as to why the behavior doesn’t line up with the company policy that the employee agreed to adhere to. For example, if your employee is ten minutes late every morning, explain how this negatively impacts the productivity of the rest of your team and shows a lack of professionalism that all employees are required to maintain.
Detail what you expect from the employee in terms of future behavior.
At this point, you should tell the employee how they need to behave going forward. Depending on the type of offense, you can also extend a word of support, reminding the employee that if they are experiencing challenges with effectively doing their job, the door is always open to discuss more and come up with solutions.
Let the employee know that there will be consequences if they don't comply with your expectations.
Ultimately, the goal of this reprimand is to hold your employee accountable. While you want them to learn from this experience, they also need to know what will happen if they fail to do so. You can mention in your letter that further action may include more severe disciplinary action, including demotion, suspension, or termination.
Close out the reprimand letter
To finish off, include a complimentary closing, such as “sincerely”, and follow that with your signature, your name, your title, and department.
To give you an even clearer idea of how to write a letter of reprimand, here’s a generalized written warning template that you can use and customize however you see fit.
What should be avoided with a letter of reprimand?
Now that you know what to include in your reprimand letter, there are also a few common mistakes you should watch out for when writing one.
- Being too emotional: While your employee may have done something that was personally offensive, it’s important not to let your emotions get in the way of the message you need to deliver. At the end of the day, you and your employees are working in a business setting and striving towards the same goal. Stay calm and professional at all times.
- Using inflammatory language: In addition to keeping your emotions in check, you also want to be careful of the language you use. Avoid using verbiage in your letter that could be interpreted as inflammatory or mean-spirited because this may further escalate the situation.
- Making assumptions: It's crucial to base your reprimand on facts, not assumptions. Don't speculate if you don’t have all necessary information. If an employee senses that false or exaggerated claims are being brought against them, they have the right to speak up and potentially pursue legal action.
- Being vague: Be specific in your letter about the behavior that you're addressing and the consequences for future infractions. This will not only help employees understand where they went wrong, but it will also provide them with guidance to sufficiently improve moving forward.
How to handle reprimand letters with remote workers
While the shift to remote and hybrid work has come with wonderful advantages as far as increased productivity, better work-life balance, and less turnover, having sufficient disciplinary procedures in place is still as necessary as ever, especially when delivering written warnings.
Here are some tips to help you more effectively handle reprimand letters in a remote workspace:
- Find a good time to have a one-on-one meeting to discuss the letter and disciplinary action. You want to avoid interrupting the employee if they’re in the middle of an important task, since this may leave them feeling ambushed and disoriented. On the flip side, you may also want to refrain from revealing too much about the purpose of the meeting beforehand, since this can cause your employee anxiety and affect their productivity. If you can, save the meeting for a time when your employee is less likely to be busy.
- Keep all disciplinary actions, including the letter, as confidential as possible. If your company functions in a hybrid environment, especially, the last thing you want to do is contribute to workplace gossip amongst in-office employees. This can potentially lead to embarrassment or negative treatment from co-workers towards the remote employee being reprimanded.
- After the discussion, send the employee the reprimand letter and ask them to sign it. While you can’t actually force employees to sign these written warnings, it typically shows good faith on the part of the employee to do so. You can also make the process easier by sending the document through an eSignature platform, like Dropbox Sign, to get the letter signed quickly and remotely. This will also allow both you and your employee to have digital, easy-to-access copies of the reprimand letter.
Manage HR paperwork faster
Letters of reprimand are just one of the many, many pieces of paperwork businesses have to manage in the HR lifecycle. But with the right tools, you can automate a lot of your most time-consuming HR tasks.