What Is a Work Write-Up?

Updated February 16, 2023

Knowing what a write-up at work is and what you can do after receiving it can help improve your career prospects. Regardless of your job and the organization that you work for, knowing what a work write-up is and how to react to it can have a direct impact on your future with the respective company. Properly responding to a write-up is a valuable career step, but it requires knowledge and preparation. In this article, we discuss what a work write-up is, why they are important and what to do after receiving one.

What is a work write-up?

An employee write-up is a formal document that a hiring organization sends to an employee who has broken the company's internal business protocols and procedures. In most situations, employees receive write-ups after multiple such incidents and after their management has issued at least one verbal warning. Some of the most often-encountered incidents that can lead to a work write-up are periods of poor performance or behavior that is deemed not to be in line with the company's values and internal regulations.

Most work write-ups are in the form of a standardized document called an employee write-up form. Aside from explicitly describing the reasoning behind the write-up, the form usually also gives the employee clear suggestions on how to improve their performance or behavior, along with goals that they must achieve and consequences for not achieving them.

Some of the most often-encountered issues that lead to employees receiving write-ups are:

  • Repeated tardiness or missed periods of work

  • Substandard job performance

  • Inappropriate attire

  • Inappropriate use of the organization's technology

  • Not respecting safety protocols

  • Not adhering to general workplace policies

  • Any form of verbal or physical violence in the workplace

  • Complains received from customers regarding a certain employee

  • Working under the influence of various substances

Related: Type A Personalities: Traits, Strengths and Behaviors at Work

Why are work write-ups important?

Dismissing an employee and finding a replacement is a burden on the company, as it requires time and other resources. At the same time, an employee who feels they have been fired without a valid reason can sue the company for wrongful termination. Employee write-ups are an effective way of eliminating these issues or reducing their scope:

  • Write-ups can reduce or eliminate wrongful termination lawsuits from former employees, as they are basically a written document proving that the company has taken multiple steps in attempting to help the respective employee change their inappropriate behavior. Most write-ups are issued after repeated verbal warnings and have a list of actionable steps to help the employee resolve their issues, therefore proving that the company has taken every possible measure to avoid termination.

  • Write-ups also reduce the number of terminations by showing employees exactly what they need to do to eliminate the issues. Some employees do not understand the severity of their misconduct until they receive the write-up and this prompts them to reconsider their work behavior, while others use the plan that the company laid out for them to improve their behavior or performance. Either way, the write-up can help employees return to a normal workplace situation.

Related: What is Behavioral Leadership Theory? Definition and Types of Behavioral Leadership

Things to do after receiving a work write up

Consider these actions after receiving a write up at work:

  1. Keep calm. Although being formally criticized for your professional behavior or performance can cause you to become emotional, you should try your best to avoid showing any feelings, no matter how surprising or unfair you think the write-up is.

  2. Take notes during the meeting. You should write down all important information during the meeting regarding the write-up. The most important pieces of information are related to the reasoning behind the written warning and what you can do to improve your situation.

  3. Express your viewpoints. If you partially or totally disagree with the write-up's reasoning, you should speak up. However, you should do your best not to sound overly defensive, but simply state your position on the matter as objectively as possible. If you feel that defending yourself may cause you to become emotional, you can stay quiet and take notes during the meeting and make your case later on.

  4. Ask what you can do to improve. Before acknowledging the write-up, you need to make sure you know exactly what you did and what you can do to improve your situation. If the presented issues are too vague you should politely ask that they are made more to the point, so you can see exactly what you can correct.

  5. Send a written rebuttal if you feel that you have been wronged. If you don't agree with the reasons behind the write-up, you can write a document in which you explain why you don't consider your actions to have merited a write-up. The rebuttal should be as factual and as based on concrete evidence as possible.

  6. Determine if the issues in the write-up can be fixed. Write-ups can be followed by employees improving their workplace behavior or performance, but they can also signal large an insurmountable difference in views between employer and employee. If you feel you can work on the issues in the write-up, you should try to do so. If, however, you do not agree with the reasoning and consider the differences to be impossible to resolve, you should start prospecting for a new job.

  7. Search for a new job. A write-up automatically brings up the possibility that you may be fired. Although that is not always the case, it helps to be proactive and take basic job search steps, like updating your resume, networking with fellow professionals and browsing job websites for relevant openings.

Related: 10 Ways To Show Professional Behavior in the Workplace

Work write ups FAQ

These are some of the most frequently asked questions regarding work write-ups:

1. Can a company terminate an employee without a write-up?

It largely depends on the nature of the signed employment agreement between employer and employee. Professional contracts can be at-will, where both parties are free to terminate the collaboration whenever they please as long as they do not break any laws, or contracted, where the two parties sign a contract and neither of them is allowed to stop the collaboration until the contract is up, unless for valid reasons that are usually clearly stipulated in the agreement.

2. What does an employee write-up document contain?

Most write-ups consist of:

  • The employee's name, ID number and position within the company

  • The offense or offenses they committed

  • The type of warning that was issued

  • A clear plan to improve their behavior

  • The consequences of the employee not improving their behavior

  • The current date and the signatures of both the manager and the employee in question

3. Can you refuse to sign a write-up if you receive one?

It is not against the law for an employee to refuse to sign a write-up, but it is not generally a helpful move. Instead, if you don't agree with the reasoning behind the write-up, you can ask your supervisor to include a line at the end stating that, although the employee acknowledges the write-up, they do not necessarily agree with its reasons.


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