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When and how should you issue a warning?

As an employer, you may find that from time to time an employee often shows up late for work, has cooperation difficulties with other colleagues, etc. In such cases, as an employer you should consider notifying the employee that this behaviour is not desirable – and simply has to stop immediately. Here, the work tool warning can be advantageously used. In this blog post, I will generally review the situations in which a warning can be given and how the process should be.

When should you issue a warning?

It is important that, as an employer, before issuing a warning you consider whether this particular sanction under employment law is the right one in relation to the employee's behaviour or lacking behaviour.

Here, one should carefully consider whether e.g. a reprimand would be more appropriate. A reprimand can be compared to a finger-wagging, whereas a warning is an official sanction under employment law, which can pave the way for you to issue a valid termination later on.

As a general rule, a warning can be given in cases such as the following:

  • The employee is late
  • The employee does not deliver the desired work effort
  • The employee has a high level of sickness absence
  • The employee has cooperation difficulties with colleagues, etc.

You should give the warning immediately after the offence or as soon as you become aware of the unwanted behaviour. If the warning is legally correctly worded, its advantage will be that, as an employer, you have stressed the importance of e.g. a certain behaviour or lacking behaviour. This also means that if the employee repeats the behaviour, the validity of any subsequent termination will be significantly stronger.

How should you issue a warning?

It would be preferable for the warning to be issued in connection with a meeting with the employee in question. Here, you can explain how the employee acted improperly. It will also be easier to explain what behaviour you want to see in the future. And finally, it would be natural to explain that failure to change could result in sanctions under employment law, including termination.

I recommend that you issue the warning in writing, even though there is no formal requirement for this in Danish legislation. Issuing the warning in writing facilitates any subsequent documentation. It would be obvious to end the meeting by asking your employee to confirm with their signature that they received the written warning.

What should a warning contain?

As a minimum, the warning should contain the following:

  • What behaviour you are unhappy with
  • What behaviour you want the employee to change
  • What the consequence(s) will be if the employee does not change their behaviour

It is crucial that, as an employer, you inform the employee that they have a defined period (e.g. two months) to change or correct their behaviour. In addition, it should be stated that non-compliance can lead to consequences under employment law (e.g. dismissal).

What should be done after the warning has been issued?

It is absolutely crucial in this process that you follow up on the matter. If this does not happen, the warning loses its effect. This may mean that you have to start over with a new warning, etc. The duration of the effect of the warning is always an interesting question, and it is difficult to give a clear answer to this. As a rule, the effect depends on how serious a matter is. A warning issued due to a less significant matter therefore expires faster than warnings for more serious matters.

It is possible for you as an employer to terminate the employee on the basis of a single warning. Often, several warnings can actually cause the effect of the warning itself to be eroded – especially if you are passive and do not follow up on the first warning.

When the specified deadline has expired and your employee has not changed their behaviour, you should consider the consequences of this. This is when you need to decide whether you want to enforce the consequences stated in the warning or take other measures under employment law, including termination, dismissal or entering into a severance agreement. This should be in direct connection with the expiry of the deadline or repetition of the offence.

If, as an employer, you have decided that the lack of change in behaviour should lead to termination, it is important that the reason for the warning is identical to the reason for the termination. If these are not identical, the dismissal can be considered unfair – and in the worst case, lead to extra expenses in the form of compensation.

Do you need help?

If you are in doubt, it may be a good idea to get outside help. In Azets' HR Legal department, we can advise and assist on all issues and challenges related to employment law and personnel matters. Read more about how Azets can help.


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