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How many written warnings should you give before a dismissal in the UK?

How many written warnings should you give before a dismissal in the UK?

How you give out verbal written warnings before dismissal sets a precedent at your UK small business for how you run your disciplinary procedure, handle employee misconduct, and treat your employees. So, hHow many written warnings should you give an employee before dismissing them?

As a qualified HT advisor, I’ve helped hundreds of small business owners outline and document their processes for written warnings and dismissals. It’s never an easy or fun decision to make, but having a consistent and standardised disciplinary policy can go a long way when you have to make difficult decisions and let people go.

The disciplinary process and written warnings

Written warnings are formal notices that you give out to your employees regarding their performance or conduct. It alerts them that something about their work or their behaviour at your company requires adjusting and gives them a chance to correct it before you resort to more severe measures like dismissing them.

As an HR process, written warnings serve another specific purpose. They outline specific issues and problem areas and give the employees at your small business an opportunity to correct them before they face disciplinary action.

Documenting written warnings also makes the reasons for employee dismissal unambiguous and set within a fair, consistent framework. That helps your small business avoid legal trouble due to accusations of unfair disciplinary action.

How many written warnings should you give before dismissal?

It’s customary to give an employee two written warnings before dismissing them.

That’s a generality though, and UK employment law doesn’t give a set, statutory number of written warnings that must be given before dismissal. The ACAS has some guidelines regarding written warnings. Generally, it depends on how severe or frequent the offending behaviour is.

In cases of gross misconduct, you can choose to give a “first and final” warning before dismissing them. Gross misconduct includes anything that can harm your fellow team members or your business itself, like fraud, physical violence, or serious insubordination. Serious offences such as these can be grounds for immediate termination of employment.

Conversely, for less serious offences, it might be more appropriate to have an informal talk with the employee in a closed setting, or a verbal warning. Even these verbal warnings should have some sort of documented record, though.

A lot of how you go about this is up to your discretion as the employer. It can also vary on a case-by-case basis given the severity of the behaviour or the employee’s role.

Best practices for issuing written warnings

You have some flexibility when it comes to giving out written warnings. That said, there are some best practices for issuing written warnings to keep in mind to ensure the process stays consistent and fair.

  • Clarity and specificity: The written warning should spell out the exact nature of the problem, and clearly outline the changes you expect from your employee. It should give them a reasonable and achievable goal for behaviour correction
  • Consistent application: Apply your process for written warnings equally across the board, for all employees at your UK small business. Similar offences should get similar warnings, keeping the process fair and unbiased
  • Legal compliance: Your small business' written warning process should fall within the lines of UK employment law, including your employee’s right to appeal the warning. gov.uk has some guidelines on staff dismissals that are good to follow here

Your first or final written warning before dismissal should include:

  • What the performance or behavioural issue is
  • A timeframe to make the changes required
  • The consequences for the employee if changes aren’t made
  • How long the warning will stay in place

Documenting and storing written warnings

Document every step of the process and standardise it in your disciplinary policy, including the first time you give an informal verbal warning. Write down the dates, people involved, specific details of the issue, and any previous incidents. If the employee does not acknowledge the first written warning you issue, make a note of that as well.

A standard written warning should be kept on file for six months, and a final written warning for 12 months. That retention period can vary depending on your company’s policy.

Using a document storage solution like Charlie can keep all your written warnings in a place where they can be accessed. This can be very useful if the problem behaviour happens again and patterns keep coming up.

Securely store employee data using CharlieHR

Get expert HR advice for complex dismissal cases

Having a documented and standardised written warning process helps to make sensitive and challenging situations more manageable, but all situations are unique. It’s hard to know what to do or what’s appropriate for more nuanced or complex cases that require written warnings leading up to dismissal, and it’s easy to make missteps or procedural errors without proper HR training.

In cases like that, I and the other HR advisors at Charlie have your back. We’re here to offer our guidance when you handle complex disciplinary cases and help you make your final decision and properly document the process.

Try a free call with an HR expert today, and make a written warning and dismissal process that’s effective, efficient, just, and fair.

Book a call with our HR Advice team

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