Rules About Workplace Warnings?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about warning expiration:

How long do workplace warnings last? Is there a period where they stay in your file and then get discarded or do they stay forever?

Signed, Worried About Warnings

Dear Worried About Warnings:

We are not an HR site, so we can’t claim to have complete knowledge about these issues, but I will at least respond from a logical and reasonable viewpoint.In the United States or most other countries, there are no laws or regulations related to retaining or purging written warnings about behavior or performance at work. If you work in an organization that has a union, they may have a contract agreement about it, but you would probably know that.

Think about why a written warning is issued and retained.
*It may be difficult to prove what was said in a verbal warning. But a written warning is a reminder for both the employee and the employer of exactly what took place.
*If the employer gives a written performance evaluation, it’s useful to keep the written warning at least long enough to use it as a reminder of things to comment on in the annual or semi-annual evaluation report.
*If the written warning isn’t going to be used for any specific reason, it may make sense to destroy it after a few months if there have been no problems. The employee feels better and no harm is done.
*If the warning was about something very serious, there may be reasons to keep the warning longer, to make sure nothing else happens.
*If the warning isn’t creating a problem for the employee or the employer no harm comes from leaving it in the personnel file–except that it may be resented by the employee–as your feelings might indicate.The bottom line is that probably your employer can keep a warning letter or notice in an employee’s personnel file until HR or someone in authority decides to remove it. If you are concerned about a warning notice in your own file, you may want to tell your supervisor that you would appreciate a review of your work with the thought in mind that old disciplinary actions can be removed if they no longer are applicable.

If they won’t remove it, just keep moving forward. At least you don’t indicate they keep talking about it years later. Every few months or so, ask if it can be removed. At some point they will probably see that it has no value. As I mentioned at the beginning, we are not HR regulation experts because our focus is on communication issues at work. You may want to check with someone who specializes in HR policies and practices. However, perhaps these thoughts will assist you anyway. Best wishes to you. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know how this works out.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.