Performance management is a detailed and complicated process, that contains a multitude of traps for unwary employers.  Caution and attention to detail is always recommended.  There are some instances where simple breaches can be handled with a simple on the spot written warning, but operators need to understand when to use the simple approach and when to go the full formal performance management track.

When a business is responding to performance issues it will be asked to demonstrate that the employee was;

  • aware of the standard that they were expected to meet,
  • capable of meeting the standard,
  • given appropriate training to meet the standard of performance expected,
  • aware of what would happen if they failed to meet the expected standard,
  • given an opportunity to correct and show improvement (where appropriate).

Typically performance management issues are addressed in a formal performance management meeting process that includes;

  1. Calling the meeting with notice
  2. Meeting with witnesses
  3. Discussion of breaches and standard business response
  4. Hearing of employee comments
  5. Consideration of employee comments
  6. Decision by business
  7. Documentation of decision

But what if the performance issue is really simple?  Is a whole performance management meeting process really necessary every time?

No.  The issuing of a formal written warning that does not include the meeting process is possible and appropriate in some simple cases.

Caution is advised that instant written warnings should only be applied to the most clear cut situations where;

  • The breach is clear and incontestable (irrefutable evidence), and
  • The standard is clearly known and the employee can clearly comply (has done so in the past), and
  • A warning is appropriate and that warning is not part of a pattern of poor performance that has risen to a level that the employee is facing termination.

In short an instant written warning, or formal written warning without a meeting, can only be issued in the simplest of cases…but if the employees job is on the line, or there is any confusion, contention or unknowns, then a meeting is required.

Some examples of situations where it is appropriate (after the communication of proper business policies/task instructions) to issue a written warning without a performance management meeting include;

  • Uniform breaches
  • Minor lateness
  • Low level operational breaches (forgetting vest on forecourt, stock not being faced appropriately)

What should an instant written warning include?

It is important to include all of the detail in the instant written warning that the employee needs to understand the breach, the seriousness of it, the consequences of future breaches and how to challenge or explore the warning further.

In an example of a uniform breach a sample instant warning could look like this;

Dear __[name]__,

This letter is to serve as a formal warning for breaches of the uniform requirements.

On __[date]__ and __[date]__ you have been observed to be breaching the uniform requirements.  Specifically you were wearing jeans instead of the required black pants.

As outlined in the policies and new starter information, and as discussed instore on multiple occasions  the uniform requirements are an important part of maintaining the businesses image, brand and customer service standards and as such the requirement is for you to present for each shift in uniform.

As outlined in the policies and new starter information breaches will be treated seriously and may result in performance management up to and including termination of employment

In this instance the business believes it is appropriate to issue a Formal Warning for breaches of the uniform requirements at this time. It is our hope that this warning will clearly communicate the importance of this issue to the business. However, for avoidance of doubt please note that compliance with this requirement will be monitored closely and further breaches are likely to result in further performance management action including possibly termination.

It is hoped that this will be the close of this matter and that you can return to the excellent compliance that was observed in the past.

If you have any further comments or questions please contact __[name]__.



Caution on Escalation

“We often use the analogy of the Yellow and Red Cards, like those used in soccer.  A simple breach can result in a simple or instant written warning (or yellow card), but if that breach is the latest in a pattern of behaviour that is likely to result in the termination of the employee (a pile of yellow cards) or is serious in and of itself (red card), then a simple or instant written warning is not going to be appropriate”, explains ACAPMA Elisha Radwanowski.

Here to Help

ACAPMA Members are reminded that they can access customised support and guidance on performance management by out to the professionals in the ACAPMA Employment Department on

HR Highlights are things to consider, implement and watch out for in your business. They are provided as general advice and you should seek further advice on your situation by emailing  its free for members. ACAPMA membership is affordable at only $860 per year for a single site and valuable with sites gaining HR and IR advice support and representation as well as a raft of other benefits and discounts see; for more information.

Elisha Radwanowski BCom(HRM & IR)