Vague Written Warning

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about using profanity:

I received a written warning for using profanity. This incident happened a year ago when I had a different manager (who has since left the company). My former mgr and I discussed this incident and not only did she feel no action was necessary, in that same interview she delivered a steller performance review and pay increase. Now this incident is being brought up by my new mgr in a written warning along with 2 other vague incidents where dates, people, specific comments were not addressed. I have been with this medical company over 9 years and have never been written up before. Is it necessary for my mgr to give specifics? How would you handle a written response?

Signed, Punished After the Fact

Dear Punished After the Fact:

You have probably already written a response, because of the time lag in this reply. I’m sorry for the delay. Delaying a written warning for a year, then having a different manager issue it, is counter to effective management or supervisory concepts. A warning should be immediate and specific. They may be informal, “Amy, please don’t use language like that again.”Or, more formal, “Amy, I asked you to meet with me because I heard you using profanity repeatedly when you were angry about the late reports. That isn’t acceptable and stirs up even more problems. If you do it again I’ll write a written warning for your folder.”Or, formal and in writing, as your current manager is doing.It sounds to me as though your former manager brought your language to your attention but said she didn’t think a written warning was necessary. She may have meant it to be an informal warning, with the idea that for that time you would not receive a formal warning because your actions didn’t quite rise to the level that required it.If you are still dealing with this issue, that is the approach that might be effective:

That you received a warning already and you took it to mean that further incidents would result in a written warning. Since there have been no further incidents, the new written warning is unjustified.The bottom line on this is that your new manager seems to feel that she has to remedy lack of action by your former manager. Maybe she has been instructed to do so. She certainly would need approval at some level for her actions. An open discussion, in which you emphasize that you want to be a good employee but feel you’re at the “can’t win” stage, might be helpful. If you can’t do that, at least you know you will need to be on your best behavior and performing at your highest level. Sometimes a new manager sees problems that the old manager allowed to continue. If all of the concerns are about the same kinds of things—your anger, or your communication style, etc.–it could be that you need to make some changes that you never realized were needed, but now you do.I hope you can resolve this so you can feel good about work and feel good about being part of the team. Nine years is a long time but you have a long time remaining. Sometimes there is a rocky time with a manager, but if you can get through it, things will calm down. Best wishes to you.

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.