Unfair Write-Up: First in Eleven Years

Question submitted to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a write-up:

I have been working at a major corp. in the same position for over 11 years. I recently went on vacation. I work in accounts payable and process invoices. While away, my supervisor and manager were at my desk. They were first there to look for invoices, which at first was normal. While they were there, they noticed some documents in my trash/recycle bin: an old purchase order which I knew was either closed/cancelled zero balance invoices for prepaid inventory (no need to keep it) A few other documents which I later explained to them I did not need.Then they stated that there was a pile of unlabeled invoices on my desk that caused confusion when they went to look for another invoice because they had no idea what these invoices were there for. Now, right before I left for vacation I worked on a special project for someone who needed copies of those invoices and I just didn’t have time to file them back in their proper place before leaving. I didn’t think that was too much of a big deal. They also stated that my daily count of invoices was off by 30 after they went through my actual number.

My supervisor and manager took these pieces of info and went straight to human resources without even talking to me first!

Now, like I said have been here for over 11 years and I have never had a complaint from anyone whose invoices I process. My invoices go toward paying new store construction and renovation so it’s very time-sensitive… not one complaint. In looking at the big picture, everything that they are complaining about has not affected my ability to do my job! When I asked other people if they throw out invoices, they say, “Of course! I do it all the time!” Now they said because of the severity of these violations I am to receive a written warning! I just don’t think that’s fair. Why not start with at least a verbal and give me a chance to improve?

Signed-Not Fair Write-up

Dear Not Fair Write-up:

Eleven years with not one complaint! That’s a very good record. But now you feel being written up, although you can understand at least partly why, is unfair. Your frustration is understandable. Is what you are blamed for doing and/or not doing serious? Were you informed about this sort of mistake in your training? Is there a procedure to prevent what you are accused of? Is discipline partly right or is it unfair because this is your first complaint and you feel the supervisor and manager should have come to you before going to HR? Is there harm done by not filing the invoices?

What is important is now how you react to this write up? The natural thing is to tell someone. You might have told someone already or will talk with your coworkers about it. You might gossip about how you feel your supervisor and manager were unfair. I recommend the less of that the better. Also don’t say to you supervisor that coworkers throw away their invoices or don’t make the count expected. The best person to talk about this is to your immediate supervisor–guard against venting. As much as possible put yourself in her/his shoes and seek to understand why and if what you did/didn’t do occurred. Also be willing to pledge it will not happen again and talk about what can prevent it? I’ve observed that most write ups could have been prevented if proper training and procedures were in effect.

Employees usually are asked to sign a written warning to indicate they read it and also they are allowed to add their comments. I suggest you add the kind of comments you sent us in remarks to your write-up–pointing out:

  1. This is the first one you have gotten–in 11 years you have had not one complaint.
  2. Explain that “right before I left for vacation I worked on a special project for someone who needed copies of those invoices and I just didn’t have time to file them back in their proper place before leaving.”
  3. Until now you have maintained the expected count of invoices.
  4. You hope in the future you supervisor and/or manager will coming to you before going first to H. R.

From a distance, I predict that this write up will soon be forgotten if you don’t allow it to play like a cracked record in your head. To avoid that, one exercise I recommend is to count the good feelings you have in the workday. When you help a coworker, when you know a customer will be pleased with a prompt reply, when your boss appreciates you come in early with a cheerful hello, etc. Good feelings are what makes the day go better. Do any of these thoughts make sense? I hope so. If not, at least they are free. If you scan our Q&As about write ups, you will find other employees also feel they are unfair. My best to you today and tomorrow. Working together with hands, head and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. –William Gorden