manager and employee talking

When to Write Up an Employee

By Kimberly Kafafian


As Human Resources professionals, we say to take the same approach as the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority, or MTA: “If you see something, say something.” If you want to correct a behavior, the sooner you address it, the better. Most managers we work with don’t want to write up employees though, especially in today’s competitive market. But if you let unacceptable actions go on without any repercussions, employees may think that what they are doing is OK and will keep on doing it, disrupting business and the bottom line. On the other hand, there are some managers who feel they should write up employees for every little infraction. Taking such a rigid approach can negatively affect the organization’s culture, impacting productivity and retention. 

So when exactly should you write up an employee? The answer is, when necessary. I know this sounds vague, but you need to apply some common sense and investigate further before making this decision.

As a manager, you are not only meant to oversee the actions of your employees, but also engage with, train, and develop them. This includes encouraging them, assessing their work, and providing constructive feedback. When you see they are violating a policy, you should give the employee a chance to explain themselves and correct the action. If needed, you can give them a verbal warning. If their pattern of behavior continues, writing them up may be necessary. There are some actions, however, that immediately require a write up or even termination.

Valid Reasons for Writing Up an Employee

Below are some common infractions, along with indications of when immediate disciplinary action may be required. Before you address these actions, you first need to make sure that there is a written policy in place that outlines the behavior in question. If no such policy exists, you could be opening up the company to legal action.

Chronic Absenteeism and Tardiness

Exceeding the number of call-in days allowed and being persistently late are terms for writing up an employee. Before you do so however, it is good business practice to ask the employee why they called out or were late. There may be a valid reason for doing so, such as they were sick, they needed to care for an ill family member, or maybe they are going through a rough patch. If this is the case, you might want to take efforts to accommodate them during this time rather than writing them up.


When you tell an employee to perform a task related to their position and they refuse to do so, you have immediate grounds for writing the employee up.

No Call/No Show

Not showing up for work impacts your team and productivity overall. Without advanced warning, the company does not have the opportunity to make plans for covering the absent employee. Before you write the employee up, drill into the no show. Perhaps there was a medical emergency. Contact the employee by phone and email to ascertain the situation and document your contact attempts. It should be noted that if no call/no show goes on for more than a few days, that’s actually job abandonment. However, be sure that you have a policy in place that defines job abandonment. 


If an employee is working in an unsafe manner that could put themselves and/or their co-workers in danger, you need to correct the situation. You could use it as a teachable moment, pointing out the behavior and asking if there was a reason for the failure to comply. How you handle the situation should depend on the nature and severity of the violation. A small violation that doesn’t really put anyone at risk should be handled differently than one that could cause severe consequences.


A careless mistake could involve one of safety, as well as one that impacts the company financially. How you handle the mistake depends on its nature and severity.

Failure to Meet Productivity Quotas

While the issue of job competence is best left to be addressed during a performance review, if your organization has productivity quota policies in place, you can write up an employee for not meeting them. Although it’s a good idea to speak with the employee to try and get a feel for why they are falling short, as it could be an overarching problem rather than a personal one.  


Any type of violence or threat of violence is cause for a write up, and in many cases immediate termination. 


As with violence, any type of harassment should be written up, and could be reason for termination.

Excessive Time Spent on Personal Matters

Too much time spent on personal phone calls, scrolling through social media, and searching the internet can be grounds for a write up. 

Please note: Before writing up an employee, make sure you have formal, written policies in place. You also want to make sure you are following the local labor laws.

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