How to Respond to a Warning Letter from Your Boss

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Written warnings at work are generally received after a verbal warning. Sometimes there is no verbal warning first and the employee is taken by surprise. 

This is especially true if they feel they are being wrongly accused. Regardless of whether they feel they have done anything wrong or not, understanding how to respond to the written warning is important.

Do Not React Defensively

When a written warning is received and the employee feels that it is in error, they should not sign the paper. If it is mandatory that the letter be signed, they should add a comment saying that they do not agree with the allegations. 

Even if they do agree with the accusation there may have been extenuating circumstances, and this should be included in the response to the letter.

Most people are not going to agree with the warning so it is easy to immediately act defensively. Although the warning can be upsetting it is best to remain calm. 

In order to have a record of the response it is best to respond in writing. Every employee has a right to reply to a written warning and explain their actions regarding the accusation.

Read The Warning Thoroughly

It is important to completely understand what behavior the employer considers wrong. Read the warning carefully so the response can be concise and to the point. What is the reason for the letter? What action or actions were considered wrong?

Is there written company policy that covers the actions the employer is calling into question? 

Most companies have guidelines for disciplinary policies and the employee should have a copy. See if the policy includes the proper way to answer warnings

An employee should make a rough draft before writing a response letter. Include points that are agreed upon and the ones that are not. 

If the employee believes there was no wrongdoing on their part the particulars of why should be included in the rough draft. 

This will allow the employee to get their thoughts together and write the letter in a polite way without offending anyone. 

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The Response Should Not Be Personal

The response should be focused on only the facts. Responding in a professional way without allowing personal feelings to be a part of the answer is important. 

If the employee completely disagrees with the reprimand, they should include facts that support their position. Write from an objective point of view and stay focused. 

Do not include other employees in the response. Blaming anyone else for the actions being called into question will only worsen the situation. 

Do not blame the employer in the letter even if it is believed that they were wrong. This is not professional and it appears that the employee is trying to shift the blame.

Do Not Use Profanity

Do not use profanity. It may be tempting especially if an employee is definitely being accused of something they did not do. Anger is a natural reaction but the response will have more weight when worded politely.

Do not talk to other employees about the warning even if it is to deny the allegations. In small offices in particular sometimes things have a way of escalating. Instead of giving everyone something to talk about it is best to say nothing. 


If the defense to the written warning is going to be that the employee disagrees with the allegations, proof should be included. 

For example, if the warning is about attendance and the days missed were due to illness, the employee should include proof that they saw a doctor. 

Even though an employer might not require a doctor’s excuse for absences, including this proof as a defense can show that there was a legitimate reason for the days missed. 

If the warning is warranted, respond with a letter saying the behavior will be corrected and do so. It should be considered constructive criticism and used to rectify the problem. It is also a good time to ask for help if the warning is about job performance. 

Ask for help in the areas needing improvement. This shows the employee is interested in performing their job to the best of their ability. 

A warning letter will go in the employee’s file along with the response. Answer the letter in a professional, courteous, and respectful way. 

This shows the company that the employee is dedicated to keeping their job and is willing to correct any problems.

worse case scenario

In the worst case scenario the employee may decide to seek employment elsewhere. Perhaps they feel they cannot continue to work for someone who has questioned their credibility.

Responding politely and calmly to any warnings that have been given at the present position is important.

Leaving the position on good terms can be beneficial because a prospective employer will likely ask for references from previous jobs.

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