Issuing employees with written warnings for violations is an unpleasant but essential aspect of running a business. But it doesn’t have to be complicated. In this article, we explain what details to include in a disciplinary action form. We also prepared a template for you to get started.
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Disciplinary action is an unfortunate but essential task when managing employees. It ensures you address problematic conduct immediately and offers the employee an opportunity to correct their behavior. But an effective disciplinary process needs to be fair, consistent, and documented.
Employee disciplinary action forms are useful tools for recording instances of employee misconduct or other disciplinary issues and detailing how they’ll be handled. These forms help ensure your disciplinary processes aren’t discriminatory, as the same process will be applied to each individual employee.
Plus, they create a record in the event of any future legal action by an employee. For example, depending on the situation, disciplinary forms may be evidence that helps you dispute a false allegation by an employee.
In this article, we walk you through how to write a disciplinary form—including best practices to follow. We also provide you with an easy-to-use template to get started.
- Disciplinary action forms are written warnings issued to employees for inappropriate workplace conduct or policy violations.
- These forms should detail all information relevant to the issue or incident and the steps the employee must take to correct their behavior.
- Disciplinary action forms protect both you and your employees. They ensure your disciplinary processes are fair and consistent while also giving employees an opportunity to address their conduct.
What Is an Employee Discipline Form?
An employee disciplinary form is a written warning to an employee about their conduct. It records concerns about an employee’s behavior at work, outlines what they need to do to address their behavior, and details the consequences of failing to do so.
This form is used when an employee behaves inappropriately or violates a company policy or procedure. For example, you may issue an employee disciplinary form to address:
- Inappropriate conduct or language.
- Safety violations.
- Unexplained absences, late arrivals, or early departures.
- Work quality issues.
- Dress code violations.
- Violations of the company’s policies or procedures.
Disciplinary forms are typically prepared by the employee’s immediate supervisor or manager, or by HR. You should place a copy in the employee’s file for future reference. You also need to give a copy to the employee for their records.
Types of disciplinary action
An organization should set out its disciplinary process in its policies and procedures manual. This ensures employees understand what’s expected of them and are aware of the consequences of non-compliance.
The specific steps in a disciplinary process vary depending on the organization and relevant labor laws. They can include:
- A verbal warning. For the first instance of non-compliance or if the employee’s conduct is disruptive but not a serious violation, their manager may give them a verbal warning. During this conversation, the manager should refer the employee to the relevant policy or procedure and discuss how to correct their behavior.
- Written notice. For a later violation involving the same conduct or a more serious violation, a manager may give an employee a written warning. Some organizations issue several written notices before moving to the next level of discipline.
- Formal review. For repeated violations or a serious first violation, a review may be conducted of the employee’s behavior at a meeting with the employee and an HR representative.
- Suspension. An organization may temporarily suspend an employee from their duties, either with or without pay, for a serious violation or where the employee fails to correct their behavior despite repeated warnings.
- Termination. In response to a very serious violation or as a last resort for repeated violations, an employer may end a worker’s employment contract.
Why Should You Use an Employee Disciplinary Form?
There are several reasons to use these forms as a part of your disciplinary process.
Deals with negative employee behavior
Allowing employees to continue bad behavior or poor performance can negatively impact the individual employee as well as your broader workforce.
For example, when an employee fails to follow safety procedures, they put both themselves and their colleagues at risk of injury. Poor behavior from one employee may also affect your workplace culture and other employees’ morale.
A disciplinary form warns an employee that their behavior is unacceptable and helps them understand how to address it. By addressing issues like poor performance or policy violations, you help create a more positive and safe work environment for your entire workforce.
Addressing inappropriate conduct also helps reduce employee turnover. Issuing employees with a disciplinary action form allows them to correct their behavior. This reduces the need for you to take further action, which may otherwise end in the termination of an employee’s contract.
The process of issuing a written warning may also identify underlying reasons for the employee’s conduct or poor performance. This gives you an opportunity to support the employee and intervene before they decide to leave.
For example, if an employee says they weren’t aware of the safety regulation they breached, you could offer them further workplace safety training. This addresses the root cause of the issue and supports the employee, rather than leaving them to figure it out on their own.
Documents disciplinary action
It’s important to document disciplinary action in your organization. Employee disciplinary forms create an immediate record of disciplinary action, explaining when and why it was taken. It also documents the opportunities the employee had to respond and correct their behavior, as well as the steps your organization took to support them.
This record is essential to protect your organization against any complaints or legal action relating to employee discipline.
These forms might serve as evidence if an employee was to sue you, for example, for discrimination or wrongful termination. They could help you respond to the employee’s allegations or disprove false allegations.
Disciplinary forms may also help counter any suggestions of discrimination, as you can show that you apply your disciplinary process consistently and fairly to all employees.
Keeps disciplinary action consistent and professional
By documenting your disciplinary action, you can ensure you’re applying the process consistently for all employees. You record the same type of information each time.
Putting these details in writing and providing a copy to the employee also encourages transparency. It shows employees that your disciplinary processes are honest and open, rather than secretive or conducted without their involvement.
Using a form also gives managers, supervisors, and HR a framework for disciplining employees in a professional way. It helps them focus discussions with the employee on the issue at hand.
Disciplinary forms also ensure fairness to the employee. The employee can clearly understand why they’re being disciplined and are given a chance to respond to the allegations of misconduct.
What Do You Need to Include in an Employee Discipline Form?
You can tailor a disciplinary form to suit the needs of your organization and any relevant labor laws.
Generally, these forms include:
- The employee’s full name.
- Their role.
- The name of the employee’s supervisor or manager.
- The date the form was completed and given to the employee.
- The type of violation. For example, attendance, safety, work quality, disobedience, harassment, or other.
- A detailed description of the issue or violation, including dates, times, locations, and details of any witnesses. This should be specific and provide detailed information. For example, rather than saying, “The employee violated workplace safety policy,” the form should explain how they violated the policy, when and where it occurred, and the impact of the conduct on other employees or the organization.
- The policy and/or procedure the employee’s conduct violated. This helps the employee understand the context of the warning and expected standards of behavior.
- Details of any recent and relevant violations. Recent violations are usually those within the last 5 years.
- The steps the employee must take to address the conduct, including the timeframes for doing so. For example, “The employee must undertake 6 hours of additional safety training within the next 4 weeks.” These actions are typically decided by the employee’s manager, HR, or both, in line with relevant company policies.
- Any proposed follow-up. For example, a check-in meeting in 2 months’ time.
- The potential consequences if the employee fails to address their conduct. For example, “If the employee fails to attend extra safety training or commits further violations of the safety policy, they must attend a review meeting with HR.”
- Manager’s comments, for example, to expand on the details already in the form or note an employee’s refusal to sign the form.
- Employee’s comments. Allowing the employee to respond in writing to the warning involves them in the process and ensures their view is heard. Their comments may provide context to the conduct or issue and help you identify ways to support the employee. For example, if the employee says they’ve been late to several shifts due to childcare issues, you could speak to the employee about taking later shifts.
- The signature of the employee, acknowledging they’ve read the form, received a copy, and agree to take the corrective action.
- The manager’s signature. Alternatively, a signature from another person responsible for disciplinary actions, like an HR representative.
What to do if an employee refuses to sign a disciplinary form
An employee may refuse to sign a disciplinary form, for example, where they dispute that the violation occurred or disagree with the suggested corrective action.
In these situations, you may want to modify the employee’s acknowledgment to reflect their position so that they sign the form.
For example, the acknowledgment could confirm that the employee has received a copy of the form but disagrees with the warning. You could also allow the employee to respond in writing, explaining their disagreement. You can then attach their statement to the form.
At the very least, it’s important to get the employee’s signature to acknowledge receipt of a copy of the form.
Tips for Writing a Disciplinary Form
It’s important to issue a written warning immediately after the violation occurs or the issue arises. This allows the employee to take steps to address the problem straight away rather than let it get worse.
Responding immediately also helps the employee understand the link between the violation and the disciplinary action. Making this link clear reduces the chances of the employee suggesting the warning is retaliatory or harassment.
Be detailed and specific
Ensure the information in your forms provides enough detail. This is especially important when it comes to describing the issue or incident. A clear description ensures the employee understands the conduct they need to address and why it isn’t acceptable.
For example, rather than saying the employee “left work early,” the form could state, “The employee left 2 hours early on April 1, 2023, without prior approval or notifying their manager. This left junior staff unsupervised and increased the risk of safety incidents.”
The description of the incident should also be objective. It may later be used as a real-time account of what happened, should an employee take legal action against the company.
While it’s important to be detailed, you should include only information that’s directly relevant to the issue in the form. Don’t go into broader issues. This can confuse your employee.
Store completed forms securely
Disciplinary proceedings generally—and disciplinary forms specifically—should remain confidential. Completed forms should be added to an employee’s record. It’s important to store these records securely so that only the necessary people have access to them.
Storing records digitally is a great way to ensure that disciplinary forms are kept securely and that only certain people within your organization can access them. Digital records management also makes it easy to find documents when you need them.
Alternatively, you can store hard copies of the forms in your employees’ files in a locked filing cabinet or secure storage facility.
Read our in-depth review of the best document management systems
Create a template
Depending on the size of your workforce, you may need to use disciplinary forms on a semi-regular basis. It’s helpful to create a template to use across your organization so that any issues or incidents are consistently recorded. It’s also important to make sure your template complies with relevant labor laws. This ensures your disciplinary process similarly complies with the necessary laws and regulations.
A template also saves you time. You simply need to fill in the required fields rather than writing the form from scratch each time. By adding the template to your policies and procedures manual or employee handbook, managers and supervisors always have easy access to it.
To help you out, we’ve created a disciplinary action form template to use as a starting point. Make sure you adapt the form to your company’s needs and any legal requirements.
Download Your Free Employee Disciplinary Action Form
Disciplinary Action Forms Protect You and Your Employees
Disciplinary forms are an important part of an organization’s disciplinary process. They record instances of employee misconduct or failure to follow policy and document the steps taken to address it.
Not only is this necessary in the event of a legal dispute or challenge, but it also ensures that the disciplinary process is fair, consistent, and transparent for your employees, protecting them against bias and discrimination.
Your employee disciplinary forms need to include all information relevant to the issue or incident, including the employee’s details, a description of the conduct, and the agreed corrective action. By maintaining detailed discipline records, you can create a culture of responsibility within your organization—leading to a safer, more positive work environment.