Important Information in Written Warnings
So there are a number of things a written warning should do. In Australia, when the Fair Work Commission is asked to consider whether a dismissal was unfair, it looks at (among other things):
(c) whether the person was given an opportunity to respond to any reason related to the capacity or conduct of the person; and
(e) if the dismissal related to unsatisfactory performance by the person–whether the person had been warned about that unsatisfactory performance before the dismissal
So that comes from section 387 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth). So that really should focus both employers and employees on what important information should be contained in a formal written warning.
There is no formula for what should be in a written warning, as it will need to reflect the specific situation. However, to my mind, some important information that should be addressed includes:
- the issue giving rise to the warning. It is important that an employer makes clear to the employer why the warning letter is being issued. For example, this may be a breach of a particular law, code of conduct, or relate to a specific term in an employment contract.
- sufficient detail to inform the employee about how the issue arose. For instance, this may require the times, dates, places and circumstances for each issue giving rise to the warning. Where appropriate, names of witnesses or supporting information (such as documents) should be provided;
- if a workplace investigation or disciplinary meeting preceded the warning, a summary or record of what that involved and any outcomes or findings made;
- a clear set of expectations or changes that must be addressed. So again, particularly for unsatisfactory performance issues, there should be a path laid out for people to follow in the future to address the issue.
It is really important that a written warning be accurate and not omit or misrepresent any relevant circumstance. I should also add that it worth keeping in mind that any warning given to an employee really ought to pass the fair and reasonable test, having regard to all the circumstances.