The Final Warning: When to Issue a Final Written Warning

It’s essential to distinguish between the final written warning and any informal verbal warnings you may have already given to an employee. An informal verbal warning lets the employee know that their behavior is not up to par and must change immediately, or further action will be necessary. A final written warning should be viable only when all other measures have failed and when it becomes clear that there’s a need to take more stern action to keep your business in line with employment law.

1. When An Employee Fails to Adhere to Previous Verbal and Formal Warnings

If there are mitigating factors like a long-term service or work record, you can try and work things out with your employees before issuing a final written warning. But sometimes, despite your best efforts, an employee doesn’t seem to be getting the message. If they fail to adhere to previous verbal and formal warnings, it may be time to issue a final written warning. The Final written warning at work should describe why you are disciplining them and state what changes need to happen for them to avoid further discipline.

For example, “You have received two verbal and one formal warning about being late for work. That is your final written warning which will result in termination if you are late again. The management is giving you this last chance to turn things around, but if you do not change your behavior, there will be no other recourse but termination. To avoid such severe consequences, we recommend that you start arriving at work at or before 8 am from this point forward as the management cannot guarantee leniency given your past performance history”.

2. In case of Violence

Before issuing a final warning, an employer will usually first resort to informal verbal warnings. However, violence in place of work may warrant a final warning or even dismissal. Violence against other employees is not tolerated at any time and can cause immediate termination. Violent acts towards customers can also be grounds for a final warning or immediate termination.

It’s a gross misconduct offense if you’re found guilty of shouting at or threatening fellow employees or customers, assaulting another employee, assaulting a customer, or destroying company property (or anything belonging to the company. Such behavior may also jeopardize your company from being fined by OSHA, resulting in heavy fines that you would have avoided with a clear and conclusive written warning.

3. An Act of Theft

It’s always a difficult decision, but sometimes issuing a final written warning is the only way to go. If an employee steals from the company, you can give a final notice without any previous or informal warnings. Gross misconduct like theft is usually severe enough to warrant immediate dismissal, but a final written warning may be appropriate if you decide to keep the employee. However, it’s crucial to be cautious. You need to know that the situation isn’t salvageable, and there’s no turning back before proceeding with this course of action.

If it turns out that your hunch was wrong and they turn their life around, you will have made it very difficult for them to get back on track by terminating them without any prior warning. Another thing to remember is that even if they have not stolen anything else after receiving a final letter, the word theft will stick with them when applying for future jobs. Hence, you want to ensure it’s worth risking these repercussions before issuing one last chance.

4. After a Thorough Investigation into a Matter

When you have looked into the matter as best you can and are sure that this is the course of action you want to take, issue a final written warning. That will be the last step before terminating an employee, so ensure you are confident in your decision. Outline the specific behavior that led to this warning and the consequences if it continues.

Finally, give the employee a chance to improve and explain what will happen if they do not. You may offer them coaching or counseling services from HR, for example. However, if the person does not change their ways after the warning period expires, it’s time to fire them.

5. A Breach of Company Policy

If an employee breaches company policy, it is vital to address the issue immediately. A final written warning should be issued after the employee has been given a verbal warning and had time to correct the behavior. A final written warning may be necessary if the employee does not fix the behavior or if the behavior is severe.

The final written warning will outline the expectations for future performance, including consequences for failure to meet those expectations. Failure to satisfy these expectations could result in termination from employment. Common breaches of company policies include;

  • Absenteeism
  • Lateness at work
  • Poor work quality or quantity
  • Unsafe practices that put themselves or others at risk
  • Breaking workplace rules that are in the Employee Handbook (like stealing)
  • Misusing company property (i.e., using office equipment without authorization).


After receiving previous verbal warnings or counseling, a final written warning is necessary when an employee has exhibited misconduct or poor performance. It’s crucial to make employees aware of their rights and responsibilities before issuing them a final written warning, allowing them to respond and correct their behavior. However, it may be necessary without a prior history of warnings if the conduct or performance was severe enough to warrant termination. It’s crucial to keep a trail of any verbal and written communication given to the employee to substantiate any disciplinary action against them should they take legal action for unfair dismissal.

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