Introduction to this document

Written warning and final written warning

Following a disciplinary hearing, if you want to formally warn the employee you will need to issue either a written warning or a final written warning. These are important documents so you should ensure you draft them carefully; a one-liner simply telling the employee you are giving them a “written warning” won’t be sufficient.

The warnings procedure

Use our Written Warning and Final Written Warning letters to issue formal written warnings to the employee. The written warning is usually the first formal disciplinary sanction in the case of misconduct or poor performance, following informal counselling. The final written warning follows the written warning and is usually a last chance for the employee to improve their conduct or performance. Alternatively, the final written warning might be used where the employee’s misconduct or poor performance is so serious that a final warning is the appropriate course of action taking into account all the circumstances of the particular case, for example, there has been an act of gross misconduct but there are circumstances mitigating against a dismissal.

A considered decision

The employee receiving the warning should first have been given the chance to state their case at a properly convened disciplinary hearing. The employer should have then considered all the evidence and the employee’s explanations or mitigating factors prior to taking the decision to issue a written or final written warning. This means the warning should not be issued at the end of the disciplinary hearing but only once the chairman of the hearing has had the chance to consider all the evidence, weigh everything up and then reach their considered conclusion. It is likely that this will result in the warning being issued a day or so after the hearing. Never be tempted to issue a pre-typed warning there and then. This looks like you’ve pre-judged the issue and could easily result in the process being subsequently held to be unfair.


All written warnings should explain the nature of the employee’s misconduct and what they need to do to improve, state what will happen if the misconduct is repeated, provide for a period of time after which the warning will lapse and include a right of appeal. Our warning letters contain all of this information.

Expiry date

Warnings should be kept on the employee's personnel file but disregarded for disciplinary purposes after a specified period. This is usually six months in the case of a written warning and one year in the case of a final written warning, although it might be appropriate for the final written warning to be valid for a longer period either in a case of very serious misconduct or where the employee has a prior history of misconduct. It's not unknown for employees to wait until a warning has just expired before offending again and since time-expired warnings should not generally be taken into account in making future disciplinary decisions, it's probably not unreasonable, subject of course to the precise wording of the disciplinary procedure, for the employer to decide that a final written warning will be valid for a longer period the next time around.