Write-Ups At Work: What Happens & How To Deal?

Christina J Colclough

By Christina Colclough

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Write-Ups At Work

I have been asked a lot recently if one should quit when they get written up at work. While I understand why a disciplinary write-up might worry you, it’s not a firing notice. You still have plenty of opportunities to turn things around! Keep reading to learn more about how to handle this situation.

What Does A Write-Up At Work Mean?

It refers to a formal document issued by an employer to an employee, outlining a specific issue or concern with their performance or behavior. The paper serves as a record of the incident and is a step in the disciplinary process.

Yellow paper notes with male and female names

Specifically, the formal write-up will detail the problem(s), including dates, times, relevant witnesses or evidence (if any), and the negative impact on the workplace. 

Contrary to popular belief, the primary purpose of a write-up is not necessarily to punish the employee! At UNI Global Union, we simply want to give our staff another chance to address the issue and get back on track. After getting written up at work, these employees can still meet with their manager or HR representative to discuss the issue further.

Plus, the formal record of the problem might also be used for future reference if needed, which is important for protecting both the employer and the employee.

5 Reasons Employees Get A Workplace Write-Up 

1. Absence Or Attendance Issues

Call Out In Sick

Unexcused absences leave the employer shorthanded and scrambling to cover the gaps, which causes undue stress for other colleagues who have to pick up the slack. And even if the employee eventually arrives, their consistent lack of punctuality still jeopardizes the project; they might miss important introductions or fail to note all the key points discussed at the beginning. 

Sometimes, the specific days an employee misses work can also raise a red flag. Consistent absences on Mondays or Fridays, for example, may suggest potential misuse of sick leave and lead to eventual write-ups.

2. Poor Performance

Employees frequently missing deadlines might create a domino effect, holding up follow-up tasks that rely on their completion. The disrupted workflow not only stresses out other team members but also ruins their opportunities with the clients. 

Another common issue is poor work quality. Managers expect their employees to produce work that meets a specific quality criterion, such as accuracy (e.g., for financial statements), attention to detail, or a certain level of skill or creativity. Consistent production of work that falls far below such standards is a reasonable cause for write-ups.

3. Rude Employee Behaviors

Disrespectful communication includes:

  • Yelling
  • Name-calling
  • Making demeaning comments toward colleagues, supervisors, or clients
  • Using profanity

Such behavior results in a hostile work environment that hinders productive discussions. Worse, it can be perceived as bullying, which will have serious legal implications for employers if not properly addressed! 

Nonverbal cues sometimes have the same impact. Slamming the door, rolling eyes, invading personal space, etc., are intimidating and often signal serious disrespect to the other parties. Write-ups might also result from employees creating gossip (rumors, complaining, negativity), all of which damage team morale and cause distrust among colleagues.

4. Customer or Employee Complaints

Customers are a huge part of every company’s success and generate revenue. 

Any negative touchpoint will drive them away and, worse, cause them to leave 1-star reviews that deter other potential customers. So, if a rude salesperson makes the customers feel unwelcomed, or a service representative provides inaccurate product information and ruins the customer’s experience, they all result in a write-up. 

The severity of the complaint also influences the disciplinary action taken. For example, a first-time offense for a minor issue (e.g., forgetting to greet a customer) can be addressed with a verbal warning or extra training. However, serious problems involving discrimination or rudeness may result in suspension.

Likewise, employee complaints about a colleague’s behavior might disrupt the collaborative dynamics. As the team does not feel comfortable working together, achieving the shared goals will be difficult. Employers should take employee complaints seriously and investigate the matter before issuing a write-up.

5. Violating The Dress Code

Dress codes exist for a good reason. A professional appearance will leave a favorable impression on clients and vendors while showing respect for the work environment. At UNI Global Union, our uniforms also represent the company’s culture to outsiders. 

Hence, non-compliance with the dress code implies the employee doesn’t take their role and the company seriously. Sometimes, it even poses safety hazards; a factory worker with long, loose sleeves could risk getting caught in the moving machinery and injuring themselves. 

In such cases, write-ups are necessary, though they also depend on whether the violation was accidental or intentional and how much it affects the workflow. A wrinkled shirt, for instance, is not considered as serious as revealing clothing or unsafe attire. 

11 Ways To Respond To A Write-Up At Work

Manual worker writing on a wall planner

For Justified Write-Up

1. Stay Calm

We understand your stressful situation, but don’t lash out like a child! It’s important to stay calm and composed. The employer will likely appreciate your mature attitude and believe you can (and will) try to pick up where you’re lacking. 

Try a few breathing exercises (they always work) and carefully consider how to respond. Make sure you have taken enough time to fully understand the issue before contacting the manager. 

2. Talk To Your Manager

business partners shaking hands

Once you are 100% certain you can handle the exchange professionally, arrange a private meeting with the manager to discuss why this write-up was issued.

Listen to their perspective and plan how to address each point. Don’t hesitate to ask clarifying questions when you need extra detail or context to respond properly! And if you are truly the one at fault, this meeting is a good opportunity to convey your sincere apology and show them you’re committed to improving.

See more: How To Deal With A Toxic Boss

3. Take Notes Of The Details

Jot down detailed notes throughout your discussion with the manager. That’s a good way to make sure you capture important points about your current work quality and specific areas that need improvement! You would understand what steps to follow to retain a good relationship with the employer.

After the meeting, reflect on these notes a few more times so they won’t slip your mind the next day. 

4. Ask The Manager How You Should Improve

Ask the manager about ways to improve. If the write-up revolves around a specific behavior or incident, there will be clear steps or guidelines you can follow to address it!

If possible, ask about other areas of improvement to better grasp how to boost your overall performance. These earnest questions often leave a good impression on managers like us; we are pleased to know our employees are not only prepared to correct their past behaviors but also desire to excel in every other aspect of their role.

5. Write Down Your Official Response

What if your emotions are still running high, and you’re afraid you can’t respond rationally in a private, in-person meeting? In that case, it’s better to step back and reply in writing. This alternative approach will let you: 

  • Communicate respectfully and show your commitment to the team or company.
  • Reference the policies and highlight any inconsistencies.
  • Discuss the write-up further, clearly stating which parts are accurate or inaccurate with the attached evidence.
  • Mention whether you think you’re targeted due to protected characteristics (like gender, race, religion, or sexuality) or your certain activity (such as complaining about the safety standards just a few days ago).

Keep your response polite, concise, and professional, and aim for no more than five paragraphs. A calm and rational response also supports any legal actions you might pursue later, so tread carefully.

6. Genuinely Try To Improve

Taking responsibility for your actions is the best response! Follow the guidelines that your manager has provided and keep an accurate record of your efforts. Update them on your progress every few weeks and ask for their feedback to confirm you are still on the right track.

Their favorable feedback is the greatest evidence of your improvement; screenshot them all! On the other hand, if you still receive no positive acknowledgment or are not feeling as part of the team at work, it might be time to consider other more fitting job opportunities.

For Unjustified Write-Up

7. Hire A Lawyer

Is the write-up just an excuse to fire you? That means your job might be in danger; it doesn’t just affect your current position but also ruins other future job prospects. In this case, an attorney can provide the required legal advice to help you protect your career. 

8. Gather Evidence

The next step is to gather proof that disputes your employer’s standing. Again, I suggest counting on a skilled lawyer to counter the reasons mentioned in the write-up. This evidence could include:

  • Exchanged email letters 
  • Recorded statements from coworkers or witnesses
  • Security footage
  • Job description or employment contract, especially if you’re accused of violating the contract or the company policies
  • Positive performance feedback or a history of good evaluations
  • Notes you made at the time of the incidents

Anything that supports your perspective would be valuable.

9. Write Your Rebuttal Letter

Write this letter next once you have concrete proof that your manager’s accusation is unfounded or inaccurate. The letter should:

  • Summarize the reasons the employer wrote you up. 
  • Explain what actually happened or provide missing context.
  • Support your account with the proof you’ve gathered.
  • Show how your proof contradicts the employer’s claims.

Of course, you don’t have to go through this step alone. If you do decide to hire an attorney, they can help you outline and polish the content! After finishing, keep 1-2 copies of this letter and all supporting evidence.

10. Submit The Rebuttal Letter

Employers usually have specific policies when handling challenges to disciplinary actions. In most cases, they must include this rebuttal letter in the employee file – along with the original write-up.

So yes, you have to submit the letter to the personnel file in your next step. The process varies by company, but you are usually asked to either hand the letter to a supervisor or the Human Resources (HR) team. It would be best to send it via your work mail to have proof of delivery and create a clear paper trail.

11. Consider Legal Action

After you submit your rebuttal, several outcomes are on the horizon: 

  • The write-up remains, and you face disciplinary action.
  • The write-up stays in the personnel file, yet no action has been taken.
  • The write-up will be rescinded and taken off your file.
  • You receive no updates.

If you don’t hear back within the first few weeks and want this write-up removed from the file as soon as possible, contact the manager again. But if no punishment has yet been carried out (and you are fine with that), then following up might be unnecessary.

On the other hand, you can consider further legal options if there’s disciplinary action or the write-up remains in the file. Depending on how the issue has turned out so far, there are a few lawsuit types to choose from.

5 Steps To Write Up An Employee

Step 1. Collect Relevant Information

First, collect all the required details for the write-up, including the employee’s attendance records, performance, and compliance with other company policies. Speak with witnesses to ensure all the information is accurate and objective. 

Some basic details to include:

  • Time and date of this incident
  • Descriptions of the behavior or incident
  • Evidence or witnesses
  • Previous warnings or incidents
  • Company procedures or policies violated
  • Impacts of the behaviors/ performance issues on the team or other staff

Step 2. Pinpoint The Issue

Next, identify the specific problem that results in this write-up. It could involve a policy breach, lackluster performance, or other issues impacting employees’ jobs. Be precise and detail the location, time, and date of the incident(s) as instructed.

Step 3. Decide The Consequences

Once the issue is identified, you should determine the appropriate consequences for the employee’s actions. These could range from a simple warning to week-long suspensions or even termination, as long as they are consistent with company policies. 

Step 4. Start Writing

After you have gathered all the information and decided on the appropriate consequences, proceed to write the write-up down formally. Your paper should be concise, clear, and objective, including a summary of the problem (and its impact) and the steps required for the employee to improve their behaviors or performance. 

Most importantly, avoid injecting any emotion or personal opinion or emotions into the document.

Step 5. Final Review and Approval

When you finish writing, carefully review it several times to ensure 100% accuracy. Then, seek permission from the relevant parties (e.g., the employee’s manager, supervisor, or the Human Resources Department).

Once approved, schedule a one-on-one meeting with the employee. Deliver the document to them and discuss what was written in more detail, providing them with another copy for the records. 

Don’t neglect their chance to ask questions even when you’re certain about your decision. Stay professional and calm during the process; remember that the goal is to resolve the issue together. 

Do You Have To Sign A Write-Up Form If You Disagree With What Is Written?

You are not legally required to leave your signature, but from my experience, that’s not the wisest idea. 

Refusing to sign doesn’t erase the fact that the write-up was issued, and your employer can still use it as documentation in the disciplinary process! Plus, sometimes, the signature simply acknowledges that you have received it and not necessarily that you agree with its contents. 

So, addressing the situation should remain your priority. Instead of declining to sign altogether, you can write “I disagree with the content of this write-up” on the document and then sign it. That strategy will clarify your position while still acknowledging receipt.

If you’re unsure what signing the write-up means in your workplace, consult your company’s HR department! They can explain the workplace policies on write-ups in more detail.

How Many Write-Ups Can You Receive Before Suspension?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Many companies have a documented disciplinary process outlined in their employee handbook regarding the steps involved and the number of write-ups allowed. I suggest you read through the guidelines or consult the HR team for more information to avoid misunderstanding. 

And as I said earlier, the seriousness of the policy violations will also play a role. A single, very outrageous offense (like harassment, for example) could lead directly to suspension or even termination, bypassing the employee write-up form altogether!

Lastly, remember that some companies allow managers certain levels of discretion in handling disciplinary matters. That means your manager might consider your past performance and history of write-ups (or other relevant factors, if any) before deciding on the appropriate course of action. Not every part of the write-up process is strictly bound to the rules.

Conclusion

I have explained what happens if you get written up at work. You can take legal action if necessary, but a well-meaning discussion usually helps settle things just fine! Seek feedback from the manager to track your performance improvement, and feel free to contact me if you need further advice.


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Christina J Colclough

Christina J. Colclough

Dr Christina J. Colclough is an expert on The Future World of Work and the politics of digital technology advocating globally for the importance of the workers’ voice. She has extensive regional and global labour movement experience, is a sought-after keynote speaker, coach, and strategist advising progressive governments and worker organisations.

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