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How Should an Employee Respond to a Written Reprimand?

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Employers generally use a progressive discipline policy to ensure that all employees are performing and behaving according to company standards and procedures. Infractions are often handled with an oral warning the first time - unless it is a serious offense - and if the behavior is not corrected, it progresses to a written warning, or written reprimand. Written reprimands formally document an employee's failure to meet standards or perform. Employees who receive a written reprimand can rebut the information in the reprimand and a written rebuttal commonly accompanies a reprimand in the employee's file.

Purpose of a Written Reprimand

A written reprimand documents an employee's misconduct or unacceptable performance, creating a written account of the incident and action the employer will take to try to remedy the situation. By providing employees with a written reprimand, the employee is able to see the accusations or specific situation in question, in detail. This helps an employee understand exactly what the problem is, what must change and how the employer will proceed if the problem is not fixed. The formality of a written warning also helps the employee understand the serious nature of the problem.

Receiving a Written Reprimand

Written reprimands are generally delivered directly to the employee by an employee's supervisor or the manager documenting an incident. Employees are normally summoned to a private meeting where the reprimand is given and the employee is expected to read the nature of the infraction. Use this time to clarify anything written in the reprimand. For example, identify any discrepancies or deviations from fact and discuss the problem and solution with your supervisor.

Know Your Rights

Many employers operate under guidelines and procedures specified by the company's Human Resource department or organizational policies. The procedure for employee discipline, including written reprimands, is commonly governed by such guidelines and procedures. Ask for a copy of the discipline policy and make sure you understand your rights. Be aware of any rules pertaining to deadlines for responding to the reprimand and any special procedures you must follow in the rebuttal process. For example, the response often has to be written to be officially considered.

Writing a Rebuttal

Focus on the facts. While you may feel the written reprimand is unfair or even a personal attack, do not handle this issue with emotions or at a personal level. Remain professional and look for factual errors or incorrect information on the reprimand. Address the reprimand in a positive and proactive tone. If you disagree with the write-up, write an objective premise for why you disagree, support your argument with evidence and specify what you think should happen. If you know the reprimand is accurate and you cannot explain the situation, apologize and respond with how you plan to resolve the problem.


Sara Mahuron specializes in adult/higher education, parenting, budget travel and personal finance. She earned an M.S. in adult/organizational learning and leadership, as well as an Ed.S. in educational leadership, both from the University of Idaho. Mahuron also holds a B.S. in psychology and a B.A. in international studies-business and economics.

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