How To Write an Effective Letter of Reprimand

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated March 30, 2021 | Published January 22, 2021

Updated March 30, 2021

Published January 22, 2021

A letter of reprimand is an official form of communication in the workplace. These letters are given to employees when they demonstrate behaviors or actions that are undesirable in the workplace. You will likely need to write this type of letter if you lead a team or run a department. In this article, we list steps and tips for crafting an effective letter of reprimand and give examples for your reference.

What is the purpose of a letter of reprimand?

Employers, team leaders and superior managers use letters of reprimand as disciplinary tools. The letter can serve as a warning—or first consequence—when someone is acting in an undesirable way. Receiving a letter of reprimand, sometimes also known as a warning letter, effectively communicates to an employee that they should improve some part of their conduct at work. The primary purpose of communication is to stop unwanted behavior. Additionally, it documents a person's attempt to do so. Here some common reasons you might need to write this type of letter:

  • Tardiness: If someone in the department you manage consistently comes into work late, you may want to consider issuing a formal warning.

  • Absenteeism: Taking too much time off of work can lead to missing assignments and poor performance outcomes. It can also lead to negative consequences for that employee's department or team.

  • Inappropriate behavior: An individual's behavior contributes to the overall culture and climate of the workplace. If someone is acting poorly, it can affect others in your organization. Writing a letter of reprimand in this situation can help prevent similar incidents from occurring again.

  • Low performance: If someone you manage is not completing tasks or completing their goals, a warning letter may be a good way to rectify the situation.

  • Misuse of equipment: If an employee is unaware of the right way to use company equipment, documenting the incident is advisable.

  • Failure to follow protocol: Every position holds certain expectations. A written warning shows the importance of following protocols for an individual's job.

  • Missing meetings: Meetings help employees receive important information about your company. Meetings also serve as places of collaboration and teamwork. If an employee continually misses meetings, a formal letter communicates that the behavior should stop.

Related: The Ultimate Guide To Professionalism

How to write a letter of reprimand

Letters of warning are important for communicating concerns and eliciting swift changes among your team members. Writing your letter in a direct and encouraging way can help you communicate your message more clearly. Here are eight steps for writing a formal letter of reprimand to someone you manage:

1. Informally address your concern

The very first step in crafting a letter of reprimand comes before you actually sit down to write it. Unless an employee's actions are particularly egregious, a casual talk or an informal email should come before any formal meeting.

Letters of reprimand express concerns regarding a trend in behavior. Waiting to issue a warning letter until after a second incident occurs is appropriate in most situations. Doing this gives the person you are managing the opportunity to address your concerns before they receive disciplinary action. It conveys authority, but it also shows respect for the employee.

Even though you are addressing this concern informally, you should still document your encounter. Documentation creates a paper trail and helps you to stay objective, especially if you need to take any further action later on.

2. Begin with a clear purpose

As a manager, you want your team to flourish; any feedback or redirection that you give should be easy for the person receiving it to understand. For this reason, the first lines of your communication should be direct and professional, and they should explain the precise reason for sending the letter. Here are some ways to ensure that your intent is clear:

  • Mention that the communication is a letter of reprimand

  • Supply the dates of any informal warnings or discussions

  • Give the date of the undesirable incident that occurred

3. Cite company policy

After detailing the person's action or behavior, cite the corresponding company policy. Doing this explains the severity of the problem and outlines your exact expectation.

4. Acknowledge positive qualities

Directly after stating policy or protocols, try to put the person's mind at ease by saying something positive. You are not writing a letter of termination, so your words should encourage improvement. The employee is likely to feel open to your feedback if you recognize something that they are doing well.

Related: 9 Tips for Being Positive at Work

5. Detail necessary changes

As you near the end of your letter, specify what changes you need to see from them. Doing this reiterates your concern and adds clarity of expectation. Most people perform best when they know exactly what they need to do.

6. Explain the next steps

Make sure to say what will happen next. You can do this by explaining the consequences of a future incident, or you could express a date in which you want to see evidence of change. This part is very important. It elevates your letter from an admonishment to a professional goal.

7. Conclude with hope

The last sentences of your letter should reflect positivity and reiterate the importance of meeting company expectations. Your language should be firm and express your confidence in the person's ability to address your concern. A hopeful statement is more encouraging—and is likely to feel more collaborative—than ending your letter by expressing a consequence.

8. Sign the letter

The last step in writing a letter of reprimand is to add the date and your signature. Your signature tells the person who the letter is from, and shows that the concern is significant and matters to you personally. Sometimes getting a person to sign a letter of reprimand is contentious. If company policy requires an employee signature, signing the letter yourself may encourage reciprocation in the person you manage.

Related: The Best Ways To Sign a Business Letter (With Tips and Examples)

Tips for being effective in your delivery

As a leader, you want the people you supervise to succeed. Sending a letter of reprimand is a tool you can use to communicate when some someone falls short of those expectations. The letter takes time to complete, and your time is valuable. For these reasons, it is in your best interest for the letter to aid in growth and change. Here are three tips for delivering an effect letter of reprimand:

Allow for a response

Remember that your goal in sending the letter goes beyond telling someone what they did wrong. Instead, it should indicate a desire to see a change in the person's behavior. Giving the opportunity for the person to respond to your concern allows insight into their experience. Sometimes there may be an obstacle in that person's way, which could explain undesirable work performance. In a situation like this, you might identify management issues or find a resolution for the problem. By offering a way for the person to respond, you show flexibility and care.

Related: Reprimands in the Workplace: Definition and How To Handle Them

Schedule a follow-up meeting

To measure how effective your communication was, it's necessary to check on the progress the employee is making. If you schedule a follow-up meeting shortly after delivering the letter of reprimand, you can gauge what actions this person is taking to meet your expectation. Just as you did with the informal talk and the formal letter, document your follow-up meeting.

Get acknowledgment

For any communication to be effective, the other person needs to receive it. Knowing when someone gets your message is crucial in assessing the changes they have made. If you're a supervisor, you manage multiple people and many tasks, so it is best that you write this information down. You can do this by sending a read-receipt on an email, requiring written feedback or asking for the person's signature. Beyond organization, having proof of acknowledgement is documentation you can refer to later.

Related: How To Become a Successful Team Leader

Example letters of reprimand

Here are two example letters of reprimand for your reference:

Example letter of reprimand for breach of confidentiality

Formal Letter of Reprimand

Date: 02/22/2021
Sender: Director of Sales, Dorothea Adams
Recipient: Anthony Jones

Mr. Anthony Jones,

This is an official letter of reprimand for breach of confidentiality. On Thursday, February 10, you were warned verbally about discussing private matters with unauthorized parties. As per that discussion, you said that you would not repeat this behavior again. However, yesterday, February 21, you were heard divulging sensitive information regarding a potential merger during a sales call.

Section 11, clause c, of the employee handbook prohibits the disclosure of confidential information regarding our company, company personnel and outside clients. Section 12 of the handbook defines mergers and brokerages as confidential until they are complete and made public by the publicity department.

I value the work you have done over the last four years and I consider you a skilled salesperson. However, this error cannot be overlooked. Any further breach of confidentiality will result in disciplinary action.

Please review the company handbook and plan to meet me on February 25 to discuss how to resolve this matter. Kindly sign this letter and bring it to me at the start of that meeting. I am hopeful that you see the seriousness of this matter and change your behavior accordingly.

Dorothea Adams

Example letter of reprimand for inappropriate behavior

Formal Letter of Reprimand

Date: 03/02/2019
Sender: Senior Director of Marketing, Sylvia Reed
Recipient: Vanessa Taylor

Dear Ms. Vanessa Taylor,

You are receiving this letter of reprimand as a written warning regarding inappropriate workplace behavior. On Friday, February 28, you were given a verbal warning after making an inappropriate remark about a coworker's body type. On Monday, March 1, in the company break room, you made similar comments in the presence of that coworker and three other colleagues.

The employee handbook defines harassment, bullying and intimidation as being any physical, electronic or verbal act meant to harm someone relative to a distinguishing feature. Distinguishing features include, but are not limited to, race, religion, ethnicity, gender, age, identity, orientation, ability, appearance or other distinguishing characteristics. These behaviors are in violation of our H.I.B policy.

You are an important part of our social media team and I value your contributions. However, it is imperative that all members of the team feel safe. At this time I am asking that you attend a two-hour web-based sensitivity training. You can gain access to this training by visiting the Human Recourses office. Please complete this training by the end of the week. Any further acts of intimidation or bullying will result in a disciplinary hearing or possible termination.

I would like to meet with you to discuss these events following your sensitivity training. My assistant will reach out to you by the end of the day to schedule that meeting. Please sign and return this letter before March 5.

I am hopeful that you gain something from attending the sensitivity training. My goal is to encourage your growth while also maintaining a healthy and safe work environment for the entire team.

Sylvia Reed
Senior Director of Marketing

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