Free formal warning letter to employee template (Australia)

Address employee underperformance with a formal written warning letter.

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Employers can find it challenging to deal with employee underperformance. Underperformance can happen due to any number of professional and personal issues, so it's important you deal with it in the best way.

Employers can talk to their employees about underperformance, but that doesn't always result in an improvement in work quality. The next step is a formal written warning letter.

What is a formal warning letter to an employee?

A formal written warning letter, also known as an employee general warning letter, is documentation that informs an employee of unsatisfactory performance at work.

A formal written warning letter acts as a wakeup call to an employee. The letter also serves as a record of the warning.

formal warning template from Lawpath

Download this template at Lawpath

When should I use a formal warning letter to an employee?

An employer should use a formal written warning letter in the early stages of the employee disciplinary process.

You can issue a formal written warning letter without giving a verbal warning first and you're also able to use a formal written warning letter after any number of verbal warnings.

Employers should be aware of the process that they need to take for disciplinary action against underperforming employees. The process differs by industry and type of employment contract.

Also, issuing a formal written warning letter isn't always appropriate. Make sure you need to understand the National Employment Standards, the underperforming employee's employment contract and any other industry-specific employment rules. Follow the disciplinary steps that are most favourable to the employee.

Formal written warning letter vs final written warning letter

A formal written warning letter should not be used as a final warning before employment termination.

A formal written warning letter includes guidance for how an employee can improve. The letter does not include a hard deadline for improvement.

A final written warning letter is designed to be the final warning to an employee before dismissal. It includes a date by which an employee must have improved, after which the employee will be dismissed.

What does a formal warning letter to employee include and not include?

A formal written warning letter must include sufficient information for an underperforming employee to understand what they have done wrong and what they can do to improve.


A formal written warning letter could include any of the following.

  • The issue dates and details of previous warnings
  • The dates and minutes of previous warning meetings
  • A detailed description of the issues with the employee's work performance
  • Detailed and specific instructions that the employee should follow to improve their performance
  • How the employee's performance is being measured
  • The details of an opportunity where the employee will get a chance to explain their underperformance
  • The details of any previous reasons given by the employee for underperformance.

Not included

  • Unclear or vague instructions for how to improve performance
  • An employment termination date
  • Unprofessional language

How effective is a formal warning letter to an employee?

A formal written warning letter does not automatically protect an employer in an unfair dismissal claim. See the Small Business Fair Dismissal Code to be fully informed about how to fairly terminate an employee's employment.

The Australian Fair Work Commission will consider many factors during an unfair dismissal claim, including:

  • The number of warnings that an employer gives an underperforming employee
  • The clarity of the instructions given to help the employee improve
  • The amount of time given to the employee for improvement before dismissal.

As an employer, you should provide underperforming employees with multiple formal warning letters during in-person meetings with a witness. This way, you will have evidence if you ever need to prove that you treated the employee fairly.

Do I need a lawyer for a formal warning letter to an employee?

An employer does not need a lawyer to help them write a formal written warning letter.

The Fair Work Commission will consider any evidence of an employee being given warnings, instructions to improve and reasonable opportunity to improve. This evidence does not need to be in any particular structure or use any specific language, so a legal professional isn't needed.

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How do I write a formal warning letter to an employee?

A formal written warning letter should include as much information about an employee's current and historical work performance as possible.

Include as much as you can from the 'What is included in a formal warning letter to an employee?' section above.

Rather than writing your own letter, consider using a formal warning letter to an employee template. We've compiled some of the best sources of formal warning letter templates below.

  • Australian Government's Fair Work Ombudsman. The Fair Work Ombudsman ensures that workers are treated fairly in Australia. It provides both free formal written warning letters and final written warning letter templates.
  • Wonder Legal. Wonder Legal offers legal document templates for over 25 different countries. Wonder Legal can generate a formal written warning letter that applies to your situation using answers to a few questions. You can access this for a small one-off fee.
  • Workable. Workable offers a free downloadable Word doc template for a formal written warning letter.

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