Written Warning For First Time Infraction

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about signing a warning:

I have been told I am being given a written warning for spending too much time on personal phone calls. I have mitigating circumstances for doing such, due to my house flooding and not having a home. I have spent some time making phone calls to ensure that I have a place to live. I am in management and my president did not offer any verbal warning for this infraction. My company is downsizing due to the economy and they have already informed me that I have to let my only employee go. I now feel like they are trying to start a paperwork trail on me to discharge me instead of my only employee since his salary is much less than mine. I have never received any disciplinary actions up to this point. Should I sign the disciplinary notice? I feel if I do that I am admitting to willfully disobeying company policy and sealing my fate.

Signed, Fearful and Frustrated

Dear Fearful and Frustrated:

If you sign the written warning, it only indicates that you did receive the warning and it is not being placed in your folder without your knowledge. It is not an admission of guilt, because no such admission is necessary for the action to take place. It also is an acknowledgment that you understand further infractions could result in more serious action. There is no point in not signing it, since you know you have received it anyway.

However, you can certainly insist upon having a statement placed in your personnel files that states your mitigation for what has happened. Be clear that prior to the flooding of your home you rarely or never made personal calls and that the calls you have made have related to that matter. If that is not the case, you may not be able to make it seem like mitigation.In the letter, state that you had not been warned about the problem and that you were surprised to receive that level of discipline. As long as you are courteous about it, you are not doing anything wrong by saying that. At least the mitigation will be there, even if you have already written a statement about it as part of an investigation.

That brings me to the bigger issue though: You and your manager apparently do not have a very positive relationship if this has developed to this point with very little prior problems. If this is “the last straw” I can understand escalating it, but if you truly have done good work before it would seem extreme. I also wonder how a written warning could have been approved by higher levels (as it must have been) if you were asked about it and allowed to make a statement of some kind. That also makes me wonder if there are other issues at work, regarding relationships, work product or general conflict between you and the manager.

Perhaps you should talk to HR about this and the downsizing matter. However, downsizing is one thing…completely eliminating a section is something else. So, perhaps it is not as threatening as it appears. Managers want to maintain control in the workplace whether times are bad or good and your manager may have felt your phone time was excessive–especially if something wasn’t done right as a result.Perhaps you can take vacation time to deal with your housing issue, or have someone in your family help you. If the matter is truly urgent you may need to go higher in the company and appeal to the sense of justice at a higher level.After you sign the form, consider writing a letter to your manager, or just talking to him, and asking how you can best handle the situation that is now confronting you. Give him an approximate timeline for when you think things will be calmed down, and promise to not neglect work while you are dealing with this sad personal situation. Perhaps talking to him in that personal way will help him see you are not the enemy, you are someone who wants to do well, but you are also facing trying circumstances.Best wishes in both your work and life situation!

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.