A written warning from an employer can only be relied upon if it is a genuine expression of the employer’s concern about your job performance.
- If the warning is fair, do not discard or ignore it. You must accept it as positive criticism and immediately act on it (for example, if it is about lateness – be punctual).
What if you don’t understand the warning?
- Seek an immediate explanation from your employer if you do not understand the warning.
- You are entitled to seek your employer’s support in addressing their concerns about your job performance. If the warning is about a failure to meet sales figures, ask your employer to assist you in developing a helpful strategy to boost those figures, which may include suitable ways of attracting new clients. Do not sign in acceptance if you do not agree with the warning.
What counts as an unfair written warning?
- A warning is not fair if it is vague and does not clearly identify the issues sufficiently enough to allow you to address the problem. A warning may be a distraction to demoralize you.
How do you respond to a written warning?
- An employee must be given the opportunity to respond to any warnings about their capacity or conduct. It is best to respond in writing and for you to keep a copy. You should include your version of events and how you intend to remedy the problem or arrange a meeting with your employer to discuss this with you. If you believe a warning is unfair, you should give a full explanation of why.
Do you have to sign a written warning?
- You are not required to sign a written warning and you should certainly not do so if you consider it to be unfair. You should ask for a copy of the warning.
What to do when you receive a written warning
- Make a note of the circumstances in which you received the warning, including the time and place you received it and what was said and by whom. If you are told of a proposed disciplinary process you are usually entitled to bring a support person (see support person meetings)
How many written warnings can you receive before you can be fired?
- There are no specific numbers of warnings which must be given before an employer can justify termination of your employment. Generally, three written warnings are considered acceptable provided they are within a reasonable time of one another and are about the same issue or related issues. It is not sufficient for your employer to give you several written warnings within a short period. You should be given a reasonable time within which to make improvements. What is reasonable depends on the nature and seriousness of the problem.
- It is also insufficient if the warnings are about unrelated matters and each time you have addressed the concerns raised. McDonald Murholme has successfully defended cases where four written warnings have been given.
How much time do you have to claim unfair dismissal?
- If you have received a warning that you consider to be inadequate or otherwise unfair and your employment is terminated, you may have grounds to make a claim for unfair dismissal. You should seek legal advice immediately, as there is a 14-day time limit within which you can make a claim.
You should not be dismissed if you remedy the problem referred to in the written warning. If a different problem occurs leading to a further written warning, you should be given the opportunity to remedy that situation and you cannot be lawfully dismissed if you do so, even though it is your second written warning. However, a series of written warnings which demonstrate a consistent failure to perform work correctly can lead to termination of employment. We have been successful on many occasions in winning compensation for people who have received four baseless written warnings, however, the chances of success diminish as the numbers of warnings grow.
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