People Management

How to Write an Employee Warning Notice

An employee warning notice allows workers to remedy performance or behavioral issues. Learn how to write a letter that gets the best results.

What Is an Employee Warning Notice?

Also called an employee warning letter, an employee warning notice is an official document that informs a worker of an issue with their performance or conduct. These notices create a record of disciplinary actions, which protects employers. They also provide clear instructions to employees to help them resolve issues effectively and hopefully retain their positions.

Reasons for Writing a Warning Letter

Even the best workers can struggle from time to time, which highlights the importance of an effective employer disciplinary strategy. Written warnings are an integral part of these strategies, as they document workplace issues and any attempts to correct them. They can also be a prelude to a performance improvement plan, which provides a comprehensive description of workplace issues and how to remedy them. 

Workplaces benefit when they retain employees for the long-term. Written notices help get employees back on track, which spares employers from going through the often laborious task of recruiting and hiring new staff. They also benefit employees, as they provide an opportunity to correct problematic behaviors before facing more serious disciplinary actions, including termination. 

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What to Include in an Employee Warning Notice

Like all workplace documents, customization of employee warning notices makes the letter more impactful. However, there are certain core elements to include:

  • employee name
  • employer/workplace name
  • number of previous warnings (verbal and written)
  • description of behaviors or performance problems
  • strategies for solving problems
  • timeframe for improvement
  • subsequent steps if issues persist
  • signatures and dates  
  • employee acknowledgment

It’s best to strike a formal tone when creating the letter, but a few words of encouragement can motivate the worker to take decisive action. Being overly harsh or aggressive is generally not recommended, as a harsh tone can leave the employee feeling defeated. An effective letter will employ positivity but also point out the seriousness of the issue. 

What Are the Legalities to Consider?

When writing up an employee for unprofessional behavior, it’s helpful to consider any possible legal consequences. Typically, workplaces are permitted to create their own rules and guidelines for disciplining employees, and it’s expected that rules will be explicitly presented within your employee handbook

However, there are some special considerations to keep in mind. With employee contracts, employers will need to abide by any clauses dictating the terms of employment. Failure to honor these clauses could lead to a breach of contract, and potentially result in a costly and time-consuming lawsuit. 

As for workers who are employed on an at-will basis, employers won’t need to worry about breach of contract. Workplaces will still need to consider federal and state discrimination laws when it comes to disciplining and potentially terminating employees, which can also lead to legal action when breached. 

Employee Warning Letter Email Templates 

An employee warning notice should offer an objective account of employee issues and their suggested solutions. As for language, the person drafting the letter should be clear, concise, and level-headed in their descriptions and instructions. 

To ensure that notices are comprehensive and strike the right tone, it’s best to use a template when creating your letter.

Along with providing written notices, employers are also encouraged to make use of employee write-up forms to document instances of problematic conduct or poor performance. If a staff member has been previously written up, this information should be included in all subsequent warning notices.

1. Employee Warning Email Template – First Written Notice

    Dear [Name],

    This letter is in reference to [performance issue/misconduct] that occurred at [place of employment]. It’s important that [place of employment] maintains high standards, but we also value your contributions and wish to see you succeed in your job role. We believe that a timely correction of the issue[s] described below is the best way to achieve both goals. 

    The occurrence in question took place on [date] at [place of employment/specific location]. Prior to this occurrence, you received a verbal warning from [supervisor/manager/HR representative] regarding a previous instance of [performance issue/misconduct]. This verbal warning was provided on [date]

    When presented with the first verbal warning, solutions were offered that we believe adequately addressed the problem. We also suggested that these solutions be implemented within [specific timeframe]. In response to this discussion, you stated [brief description of the employee’s response to the initial verbal warning]

    To reiterate, we’re looking for [repeat any solutions or strategies discussed]. In the event that the [performance issue/misconduct] continues, you can expect the following:

    1. Second verbal notice
    2. Second written warning
    3. [consequence, such as suspension]
    4. Final warning/in-person meeting
    5. Termination

    We hope that further steps are not necessary, and that the situation is adequately resolved with this written notice. We encourage you to reach out if you have any questions about this notice or the guidance we’ve provided. 


    [Name of supervisor/manager/HR representative]

    Acknowledgement [to be completed by the employee]: I have read this written notice and agree that I have committed [performance issue/misconduct]. I am willing and able to make the adjustments recommended in this notice within [timeframe]

    Signature: [Employee Name]

    Date: [date of employee signature]

    Wize Tip: Employers commonly provide two written notices before taking more significant action, up to termination of employment.

    2. Employee Warning Email Template – Second Written Notice

      Dear [Name],

      We’re writing again in reference to [performance issue/misconduct]. You’ve previously received two verbal warnings and one written notice regarding the issue. 

      The first verbal warning was provided on [date] at [place of employment/specific location], while the first written notice was provided on [date]. Please see a copy of the initial written notice attached to this email. 

      After a second verbal warning was communicated on [date] at [place of employment/specific location], we feel that the proper corrective actions have not been taken in the suggested timeframe. Accordingly, we have no choice but to enact [consequence, such as suspension].

      Please note that we take this matter very seriously and very much desire your cooperation. As you may remember from the initial written notice, a failure to resolve this issue will result in a final notice, which will be provided during a meeting involving relevant parties. If the issue remains unresolved after the meeting, termination will follow. 

      We expect changes to be implemented within [timeframe]. We welcome your questions regarding this matter. 


      [Name of supervisor/manager/HR representative]

      Acknowledgement [to be completed by the employee]: I have read this second written notice and agree that [performance issue/misconduct] has remained unresolved. I am willing and able to make the adjustments recommended in this notice within [timeframe] with the understanding that further actions will be taken if I don’t comply.

      Signature: [Employee Name]

      Date: [date of employee signature]

      Wize Words

      Employee warning notices are developed to address poor performance, but they also provide support and encouragement to workers who struggle to meet expectations.

      Instead of punishing employees, these letters create a clear strategy that benefits the recipient, as well as the workplace as a whole.

      Frequently Asked Questions

      Are employers obligated to provide warning notices to staff?

      Workplaces are not legally mandated to provide warning notices to workers who are underperforming. However, doing so can prevent misunderstandings should the issue result in termination. For example, questions about whether a termination is lawful are less likely to arise if the employee receives notice of any problems with their performance or conduct. 

      Who should write employee warning letters?

      At many workplaces, the worker’s direct supervisor or manager will be responsible for creating warning letters. These individuals will have the most knowledge regarding any infractions that took place. They’ll also be the most knowledgeable about how to solve the issue. The process can also involve a human resources specialist, who will ensure the letter is drafted according to the rules and regulations governing the workplace. 

      Is there a specific number of warnings that employers should give?

      Employers often give two written warnings before taking further action, such as suspension or termination. This number can be increased based on the discretion of the employer and the situation surrounding the workplace issue. At some places of work, the employer may choose to provide three written notices before considering termination, while others may provide multiple verbal warnings along with written documentation. 

      Can you fire an employee without warning?

      It’s possible to fire an employee without warning, but it’s generally not advisable to do so. Immediate firing can be problematic, even in states governed by at-will employment laws, as it can leave an employer vulnerable to lawsuits. There are some exceptions, however, such as when a worker creates an unsafe environment that could harm other employees. Criminal wrongdoing, such as drug use or theft, is another possible reason to fire a person without prior warning.

      What if an employee refuses to acknowledge the warning letter?

      When an employee refuses to sign the acknowledgment included in the warning letter, it may be necessary to hold an in-person meeting immediately. The purpose of the meeting will be to understand the employee’s refusal and to determine whether the information contained in the warning letter is accurate. From there, employers will need to decide whether they should move forward with actions like suspension or termination. 


      • Stacie Adams

        Stacie Adams is a seasoned writer with a passion for topics affecting modern workplaces, especially topics relevant to the restaurant and food industry. She’s written extensively on legal issues affecting businesses, including discrimination, contractual disputes, and safety code violations.

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      The article was reviewed by Marisa Ramirez

      Stacie Adams

      Stacie Adams is a seasoned writer with a passion for topics affecting modern workplaces, especially topics relevant to the restaurant and food industry. She’s written extensively on legal issues affecting businesses, including discrimination, contractual disputes, and safety code violations.

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