Composing a Disciplinary Action Memo

If you spend any amount of time managing others, you will come to a time when you need to compose and deliver a disciplinary action. This is one document many managers struggle with composing and delivering to employees. A disciplinary action memo should be written clearly and directly, without being aggressive. One that is confusing or vague will not change employee behavior, which is the exact purpose of this memo. 

Here is an easy template to following when writing a disciplinary action. The memo can be composed with just four paragraphs, all focusing on specific behaviors, expectations, and results. Focused on the “what’s”, I refer to each paragraph as what happened, what was expected, so what, and now what.

What happened: Described the employee’s specific actions or behaviors. A behavior is something that is observable, measurable, and factual. When describing behaviors, avoid using absolutes (always, never) and generalities (attitude, attendance). Instead of saying an employee has “attendance issues” or is “always late”, focus on specific behaviors such as “late 5 times of 10 minutes or more during the month of June). 

What’s Expected: State the policy, procedure, or expectation violated. This can be as easy as copying and pasting from your employee handbook or procedure manual. When copying from a manual, reference the page and section, such as “as stated on page 52 of the Employee Handbook regarding dress code…”

So What: Describe the negative impact resulting from the employee’s action. This section is especially valuable when communicating to employees who may not understand the importance of following a specific policy. When I worked in banking, I would remind branch employees that dual control is required to open the vault. If one person is late, the vault cannot get opened in time, tellers cannot get their cash drawers, and members cannot be serviced. Lateness ultimately effects teamwork and member satisfaction.

Now What: Describe the implications to the employee based on his/her actions. This may include a formal warning period, restrictions, action plan, loss of bonus, demotion, and even termination. If there is to be a follow-up period, state the time frame and person responsible for following up. 

Keep in mind, this is a general guideline, and should not supersede any specific disciplinary action format your organization may have in place. Managers should always consult with your Human Resources department before presenting an employee with a written disciplinary action.

Posted 21 weeks ago