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Warning letters to employees and what they mean


What does an organization expect when hiring an employee? Performance in the very least.

An organization sets its target but it takes the concerted efforts of each and every employee to achieve the set targets.

Performance remains the only requirement that cuts across all levels of management and operations in an organization.

Though performance measures vary from one organization to another, fulfillment of the set targets is the most important one and which emphasis is laid on when evaluating performance.

In the modern day corporate environment, performance is not only measured against the set targets but also on the ability of an employee to work with others such that even where an employee is able to achieve the targets, his or her performance score would still be low if he or she is unable to maintain good relations with colleagues.

But how do you deal with an under performing employee? That’s the question that lingers in the mind of every employer who is faced with the question of whether or not to terminate an under performing employee.

In professional work environment, the main objective of the employer is to make profit but to do so he has a duty to the clients and employees to maintain a safe, stable and efficient working environment.

Any situation that jeopardizes this environment invites an immediate response from the employer inform of a written warning. Before an employer considers other disciplinary actions such dismissal or suspension, the starting point usually is to issue a warning letter to the employee.

A warning letter is a formal acknowledgement of a transgression in the work ethic of an organization. It may refer to a poor or low output, inappropriate conduct in the work place among colleagues, disregard for an organizational policy and mismanagement of resources of the organization.

It also acts as a formal record of transgression or offenses for future references.In most instances warning letters are issued by the human resource (HR) department of an organization but can also be issued by any person with significant authority in the organization based on the seriousness of the transgression. It may be issued against an individual, a team or an entire department.

In law and in the Kenyan context, a warning letter is taken as a full disciplinary action. For instance, In Dr. Joseph Maingi Maitha vs Permanent Secretary Ministry of Medical Services and Another [2015] eKLR the Court held that once some form of disciplinary action is taken against an employee, the offence(s) forming the subject matter of the concluded disciplinary process cannot be used against the employee at a future date. This simply means that an employer cannot use warning letters as a basis for terminating an employee.

But what happens if an employee declines to sign or acknowledge a warning letter? a new offence is committed at that very instant and further disciplinary action may be taken against the employee.

In Dorothy Asina Atela vs Henkel Chemical (EA) Limited [2015] eKLRwhere the Respondent stated that the Claimant refused to sign the warning letter issued to her, the court noted that in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, the Court adopts the Respondent's testimony regarding the refusal by the claimant to sign the warning and accordingly finds that the Respondent had a valid reason for terminating the Claimant's employment.

The format of a warning letter is simple, short and to the point. The specific bad conduct must be made clear from the beginning so that a misinterpretation does not arise from the wording of the letter.

Although it does not contain any binding disciplinary action, it may however make it clear to the employee the consequence that may follow if the offense is repeated.

The tone of the warning letter does not have to be impolite because the main objective of a warning letter is to assist the employee to rectify the offense and also to help the employee professionally.

Although it can be an awkward situation to reprimand an employee about his poor conduct or performance, a warning letter remains a viable human resource tool for that purpose.

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