Careers Succeeding at Work Reprimands Can Help Employees Improve Performance Why Would an Employee Receive a Reprimand Letter? Share PINTEREST Email Print Mediaphotos / Getty Images Succeeding at Work Human Resources Glossary Job Search Resources Hiring Best Practices Employment Law Employee Motivation Employee Management Management Careers Management & Leadership Employee Benefits By Susan M. Heathfield Susan M. Heathfield Susan Heathfield is an HR and management consultant with an MS degree. She has decades of experience writing about human resources. Learn about our Editorial Process Updated on 12/05/19 An employee reprimand is an official written method for documenting that you have warned an employee about a specific lack of performance or about an inappropriate action. The employee reprimand is provided following the failure of informal and formal supervisory coaching to help the employee improve the required performance. Usually, the first step in a progressive disciplinary action reprimand is a verbal reprimand. If the employee fails to improve in the areas pointed out to them, the next step is a (more serious) written verbal reprimand. Purpose of the Employee Reprimand A reprimand is generally not the first action that is taken when an employee is failing to perform. There should be many other actions that take place before this, such as feedback sessions and verbal counseling. The purpose of a reprimand is to get an employee's attention. It notifies them that failing to improve their performance may result in more disciplinary action. Some actions may require an immediate reprimand, while other actions require progressive steps. When you are addressing employee performance, ensure that every action you take is documented, creating a trail that leads up to the reprimand. Create A Paper Trail You should do your best to document every corrective action you take with your employees. There a a few benefits of this. One, you are able to use it as a reference if an employee doesn't remember the incident. Two, it creates a history for further actions. Try to make sure verbal feedback sessions are acknowledged by the employee with a written endorsement, or by writing the action in an employee record. Performance reviews are acceptable forms of historical behavior for reprimands, as are any other feedback sessions. Performance reviews and verbal and written reprimands will provide the documentation necessary for an organization to progress with disciplinary actions. If fair warning has been provided, the employer has the right and legal grounds to take the necessary steps to terminate an employee. Most medium-to-large size companies have an employee handbook that clearly outlines the reprimand and disciplinary action step policy. This handbook should always be made available to all employees. If you have a small business, you might consider drafting some written policies outlining appropriate workplace behavior and action that you might take if an employee is not performing adequately. Each employee should sign it acknowledging their understanding of your policy. Improving Performance Employees will generally not cause managers and leadership to pull out the employee handbook and point out violations. They will not normally intend to fail at the tasks they are given. However, there are employees who may need to be reminded that certain behaviors will not be tolerated. Reprimands can help employees recognize the seriousness of the manager. Occasionally, employees fail to understand the implications of feedback sessions and verbal warnings. It may be in how you are wording the corrections or the tone of voice you were using. Writing reinforces what you are trying to communicate, and if an employee cannot understand this, then there is more than a misunderstanding. Some employees simply will not be able to perform the tasks they are given. If all coaching and counseling techniques have been exhausted and company policy followed, it may be time to issue a reprimand. Once you have issued a letter of reprimand, it might be worth ensuring the employee understands corrective actions they can take to improve. Since the reprimand usually occurs after other methods have failed, there still might be a misunderstanding on the employee's part. The corrective actions being implemented may not be the appropriate ones for that employee. Sometimes, an employee needs someone to listen and help them through a rough patch in their life. Everyone has rough times, and a manager that takes the time out to understand an employee's situation has the potential to greatly affect that person's life, and forever be viewed as someone that cared enough to extend a hand. This action alone can turn a poor-performing employee into a well-performing one, simply by demonstrating that someone cares. Follow The Established Policies In keeping with the policies outlined in the employee handbook or acceptable behavior letter, an employee reprimand may be the first or the only step required before employment termination. The action you take is dependent on how you have defined your policies or severity of the employee's actions. It's important to note that employment laws and regulations vary from state to state, so there are no definitive grounds for firing an employee unless disciplinary actions break the law. Check your state labor laws to ensure you are in compliance. Final Thoughts Make sure you are following your or the company's policies to the letter, while documenting everything, for every employee. Issuing a reprimand to an employee for something, but not to others is not a fair work practice. It gives people grounds for legal action against their employer, and it produces a poor work environment. As you are proceeding through paperwork with a poor-performing employee, remember that you are trying to help them improve, even though you might be at your last straw. You may be required to issue a reprimand by policy, but it is possible that through all the feedback and paperwork, you may have missed something that could have turned an employee around.