How Businesses Define Reprimand in the Workplace

When an employee is underperforming, conducts themselves poorly or doesn’t follow company policy, there has to be a method to alert them about their behavior in an impactful way.


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What is a reprimand?

Organizations define reprimand as a verbal or written warning that informs an employee that their behavior or work performance isn’t aligning with the standards you’ve set for your company. Employee reprimands come in several forms, depending on the reason they’re given.


In some cases, managers may need to issue a soft warning to the employee and help them figure out what they can do to improve their performance. In other cases, you may need to issue formal documentation of the employee’s actions and hold them fully accountable for their behavior.


Ultimately, a reprimand informs an employee that further disciplinary action may occur if the problematic pattern continues. A reprimand doesn’t usually include the termination of employment or a reduction in salary.


It’s typically given after a verbal warning or meeting where you’ve discussed the employee’s behavior with them in-depth. If the pattern continues without signs of change, you’re allowed to reprimand the employee.


What does a reprimand mean to HR?

In the eyes of the human resources department, reprimands are corrective actions that, in some cases, could be improved through coaching or retraining. Managers fill out employee reprimand forms and submit them to HR.


These documents are added to the employee’s official file and maintained throughout their employment with your company. If the employee continues the offending behavior, they risk salary decreases, suspension or termination.


HR tracks an employee’s behavior over time to see whether their unsatisfactory behavior improves or remains the same. This information is especially important when it comes to performance reviews, advancement opportunities or if the company needs to rehire a former employee.


How do employees define reprimand?

Employees see reprimands as black marks on their record and can take being reprimanded in negative ways. In some cases, these reprimands can lead to the employee disliking the manager or even the organization as a whole.


The circumstance under which the employee is reprimanded definitely affects their response. Reprimands that happen in front of peers and other managers can cause the employee embarrassment and lead to resentment.


Related: Employee Evaluation Form


Best practices in issuing an employee reprimand

Here are some tips to keep in mind when reprimanding an employee:


  • Provide a verbal warning first. When an employee acts in a way that you disapprove of, provide them with a verbal warning first. This helps build the relationship between you and your employee, allowing you the opportunity to discuss the issue with them and determine how the issue can be addressed, without formally reprimanding them. It also gives the employee a chance to change their behavior before the issue escalates.
  • Document everything. When reprimanding or preparing to reprimand an employee, it’s important to record all pertinent data related to the incidents. Take notes when an employee acts unfavorably and when you provide a verbal warning to them as a result. Recording an employee’s pattern of behavior will assist you in future confrontations with them, and you can use these records as evidence if the matter continues further.
  • Discuss the issues behind the potential reprimand. When you meet with your employee to discuss the issue, you may learn that they’re struggling with health problems, experiencing relationship issues or are generally dissatisfied with their employment. While these aren’t excuses for inappropriate behavior, they may help you connect with your employee and determine an appropriate performance plan to improve their productivity in the workplace. You might realize they may be a better fit in another role, so you can retain them as an employee without affecting their relationship with supervisors in the company. It’s possible that an increasingly stressful workplace can result in poor performance from normally productive employees, which is something you, as an employer, can begin to fix.
  • Reflect on company practices before reprimanding an employee. It’s easy to notice an employee’s declining performance or inappropriate workplace behavior. However, it takes more insight to reflect on the company, company policies and the behavior of your supervisors, noting how these concepts may be connected to your employees and their performance. For example, if a normally productive employee begins to produce work that’s less than satisfactory, consider whether their workload may have significantly increased recently or their team members are not contributing as much as they should be.

Related: Exit Interview Form


Frequently asked questions about employee reprimands

Reprimanding an employee can be a complicated topic that varies greatly, depending on the situation and workplace. Here are some common questions people have about reprimands in the workplace:


How long does a reprimand last?

Some companies may keep a record of a reprimand in an employee’s file for the duration of their employment with the company. Other employers may remove a reprimand from the file after a set period of time, as long as there are no additional reprimands. You can choose what this period of time may be, depending on the expectations of your company and your employees.


How do you reprimand an employee for poor performance?

As an employer, you want to provide your employees with a verbal warning before you officially reprimand them and document it in their file. To do so, you would schedule a private meeting with the employee and discuss the behavior or actions that you would like to see them improve. At this point, you may implement an intervention plan to track the employee’s performance and behavior in the near future. If the behavior continues, you could complete a formal reprimand document stating the reason for the reprimand and highlighting the potential consequences for continuing behavior. This document is then delivered to the employee and signed.


What is a reprimand letter?

A reprimand letter is a formal, official document written to an employee that states the reasoning for the reprimand itself. You should provide the reason for a reprimand in great detail, and it can also help to suggest goals or timelines for employee performance in the near future. For example, you might state that the underperforming employee must meet their weekly quota within the next three months. You can then give them a copy of the letter to sign and acknowledge their understanding of the performance plan you’re setting for them.


Who can reprimand an employee?

Generally speaking, an employee’s immediate supervisor is most often the person issuing a reprimand. It’s also possible for another supervisor or manager above the immediate supervisor to issue the reprimand. Ideally, the reprimanding manager is a person with firsthand knowledge of the employee and the circumstances surrounding the reprimand itself.



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