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How to Write a Memo for an Employee's Discipline

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There are several reasons why you may need to document employee behavior. If employee behavior requires correction, a disciplinary memo serves notice that the action is unacceptable and must be corrected. A disciplinary memo usually follows verbal counseling given to the employee. However, for serious infractions, the written document may be the first warning. The written document can protect both you and your company from expensive lawsuits.

Assess the situation. Where possible, the employee should have been given prior warning that the behavior precipitating the memo was unacceptable, and been given the opportunity to correct the behavior. If the behavior continues, then a memo may be the next appropriate course of action.

Insert the correct identifying elements into the memo. A disciplinary memo must be dated and signed by the manager and contain a signature line for the employee, the date of the warning and the name of the manager who initiated the action. The employee signs only to indicate that she has received the memo, not that she agrees with its content. Include language that states this under the signature line. If the employee refuses to sign, then a witness signature is needed.

Describe the disciplinary event that led to the warning, using only the facts. If there have been previous discussions regarding the incident, note them in the memo. Make sure that the language is not overly specific so that the warning does not include related incidents. For example, if the employee is frequently caught surfing the Internet, the warning should not read “employee will refrain from shopping online.” Rather a more effective warning is: “employee will refrain from using computers and other office equipment for non-job-related activities.”

Avoid punitive or derogatory language. The content of the memo should help the employee take steps toward improving his behavior. Note the company rule or policy that was violated, if applicable.

Include a plan of action. This gives specific steps for improvement. If there are resources such as an Employee Assistance Program or training courses available to help the employee, include these in the plan as well. You may also be a resource for the employee, offering additional training, coaching and work product review as needed. The action plan must establish, as applicable, expectations for new behaviors or levels of performance.


Make sure that the tone of the memo is factual, not derogatory or punitive.

Be sure that you are following the protocol that your company has established for progressive discipline.

Serious misconduct may call for immediate suspension or termination. Know your company’s policies.