• 3 min read

How to Write a Memo for an Employee's Discipline


In any organization, disciplinary action may be necessary when a worker’s behavior has a negative impact on the individual, co-workers or the workplace. As a manager, you may have to take disciplinary or corrective action to improve unacceptable behavior or performance. When you have unsuccessfully tried other methods such as counseling and performance appraisal, you may have to write memos to warn an employee who appears unable to reform. Here is how you can write a memo for an employee’s discipline.

1. Give sufficient notice

According to the University of California, you can reprimand a delinquent employee by giving the memo as a notice to the employee that his or her performance does not meet some expected component. You may give this reprimand if the worker fails to show a change following informal supervisory coaching to help him improve the required performance. The notice may later serve as the documentation necessary for you to fire an employee if he or she fails to retain employment after all the legal steps are exhausted.

2. Specify the course of action

Make reference to the memo as a disciplinary memo to avoid legal issues with labor unions later. Clearly state the reason for writing the memo. Remember to include the employee’s responses in the memo, but avoid focusing on his response. Focus instead on restating policy or procedure in the memo. By stating what you expect from your employee, you avoid taking disciplinary action if the worker conforms to the rules. In many situations, it would be illegal to hand out discipline without following other procedures or channels.

3. Maintain privacy

Treat memos as personal, confidential matters. Ensure that you only provide it to the employee involved. If possible, you should also provide a copy to his union representatives and keep another copy in the employee’s personnel file for future reference. However, you should check with your operation’s union stewards if you need to keep proof of such conversations or meetings. They may ask for a legal provision that allows their client to staple a written response to the memo before you file it.

4. Use significant wording

In your communication, make use of powerful wording that refers to a reprimand or formal written notice. Specify if you are accusing the employee of incompetence, insubordination, misconduct or neglect of duty. These are all serious phrases that you could use during official disciplinary proceedings if your dismissal of an employee is challenged later. If your memo contains many euphemisms, you might need to convince a disciplinary committee that the offense the employee committed warranted dismissal. You should state the error without mincing words. You may indicate that a certain action would be taken if the employee fails to conform to the rules or agreed course of action.

Writing a memo eliminates the risk of a civil suit and acts as a reminder to both parties about the agreed issues. Compared to verbal reprimands, memos may be useful where proof is required. They are also more formal and the standard mode of communication in office environment.