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If you receive a final written warning at work, it means your employer is taking serious disciplinary action against you regarding your performance, behaviour including absences.

Why have I been given a final written warning?

The usual process before receiving a final written warning is as follows:

Informal verbal warning

This can be used for a minor breach of the rules or lapse in performance. At this point your employer should explain the possibility of formal disciplinary action if the issue is not rectified. This can be recorded on your file.

Formal verbal warning

This will be issued when an informal verbal warning has failed to deliver the desired results. It can also be used without a prior informal warning for a more serious disciplinary matter. All warnings are recorded on your file.

Written warning

This is issued when you fail to respond adequately to the formal verbal warning.

Final written warning

The final written warning is issued when you fail to react positively to the written warning. If the situation warrants it, it is also possible to be issued as a ‘first and final written warning.’

Summary dismissal

This is issued when you fail to respond to the final written warning or when you commit an act of gross misconduct. Gross misconduct covers many serious behaviour breaches including theft, assault or wilful damage to company property.

Any disciplinary action against you should be pre-empted by a meeting where the problem is raised with you and explained properly. All evidence should be presented to you and you should be given your chance to tell your side of the story in case there are any mitigating circumstances your employer is unaware of. If you raise an important new fact or issue in this meeting, your employer should stop the meeting and arrange to reconvene when the new information has been taken into account, and properly investigated.

What happens if my employer hasn’t gone through this disciplinary process?

Although the process above is a recognised path, it’s also possible to receive a final written warning without going through the escalating levels. It depends on the nature of your misconduct or performance. If you receive a final written warning with no prior notice for a relatively minor issue such as timekeeping, then this would not be appropriate. However it’s important to remember that depending on the seriousness of your breach of conduct or lapse in performance, any of the steps above can be implemented at any time.

What do I do when I have been given a final written warning?

At this point it’s very important to engage with your employer to try and resolve what is now a serious issue. Your final written warning should be given a set time frame and the letter should clearly state the change in behaviour needed, your right to appeal and the fact that further misconduct or poor performance could lead to your dismissal. If you don’t respond to your written warning or fail to correct the behaviour in question, then usually, your company will reserve the right to dismiss you with or without notice.

What are the possible outcomes of a formal written warning?

Hopefully if you take the action expected of you to resolve the issue, you and your employer can put the issue behind you and resume your working relationship. Your final written warning will remain on your HR file for a set period of time which should be stated on your final written warning letter.

What if my final written warning is unfair?

You may feel that your final written warning is unfair or unjustified. Depending on the circumstances, you may be able to appeal on any number of grounds including:

  • If you can demonstrate that you have in fact taken the steps necessary to correct issues raised by previous warnings.
  • If your employer did not follow their own disciplinary procedure or the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration (Acas) code of practice. If their own written policy was not followed.
  • If your employer’s complaint about you is not backed up by sufficient evidence.
  • If the disciplinary process is too harsh – for example if they have reacted in a more lenient way to others’ similar transgressions in the past.
  • If you can identify that the problem has been caused by training needs or other necessary provisions for you to do your work that have not been met.
  • You can argue that disciplinary action shouldn’t be taken thanks to your previous good record and conduct.

Any appeal you launch should be given to your employer in writing.

How does the appeal process work?

When your employer receives your appeal they should offer you a meeting to discuss it as soon as possible and the appeal should be overseen by someone in the company who is impartial and has not been involved in the process up to this point. You will have the right to bring a witness to your appeal hearing. After this meeting, your employer should inform you in writing of their decision.  Usually you will be able to attend work as normal while the appeals process is going on but in some cases you will be suspended on full pay.

What happens if my appeal is unsuccessful?

If your appeal isn’t upheld and you wish to stay in your job, you will be required to accept your employer’s version of events and improve your behaviour or performance as set out in your warning letter, otherwise you will face dismissal from your job. The imposition of a final warning letter on an unfair basis, could give more grounds for resignation based of a constructive dismissal. However before taking action, you should consult the specialist employment solicitors at Bray & Bray.

Specialist employment solicitors

If you have received a final written warning and are unsure how to proceed, contact the expert employment law solicitors at Bray & Bray for plain-English advice on the following numbers: