Warnings and other disciplinary action

Warnings in the workplace should be part of a disciplinary process and they should be designed to allow employees to change a particular behaviour within a given timeframe. They should be given as quickly as possible after the behaviour occurs. Any sanctions should be proportionate to the alleged offence.

Verbal warning

A verbal warning may be given to an employee for a minor misconduct.  The employee should be given a timeframe to change the behaviour and should be made aware that written warnings could follow if it is not corrected.  A note of the existence of a verbal warning should be taken but disregarded for disciplinary or other purposes after a defined period of time (e.g. 6 months). The timeframe for warnings to remain “live” should be fair and proportionate.

First written warning

In the case of more serious misconduct, or where the behaviour has not been corrected or improved since the verbal warning, it may be appropriate to give a first written warning.  It should be given after a proper investigation process and a disciplinary meeting. A file record of the warning should be kept but disregarded for disciplinary or other purposes after a specific period (e.g. 12 months). The timeframe for warnings to remain “live” should be fair and proportionate.

Final written warning

A final written warning may follow if the misconduct continues or recurs.  The employer may also issue a final written warning for a first offence if it is serious enough.  A final written warning should normally apply for a specific period, e.g. 12 months, and contain a statement that further misconduct may lead to dismissal.


Dismissal may result if misconduct continues after the final written warning.  However, it may also be the result if an employee makes one mistake but the actual or possible consequences of that mistake are extremely serious, or could be considered gross negligence.  The organisation’s disciplinary procedure should clearly state that dismissal may result in these situations. The employer should still follow the statutory three stage dismissal process.

Other actions

The employment contract may allow for a different disciplinary penalty where misconduct continues following a final written warning.  Examples include: disciplinary transfer; disciplinary suspension without pay; demotion; loss of seniority; or loss of an increment. These actions may only be applied if they are provided for in the employee’s contract.  Any sanction should be confirmed in writing, with the procedure and time limits for appeal set out clearly.

Last updated: 25 July 2019