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File note vs formal warning

23 August 2022

“Did you take any notes?”

If you have engaged with any HR professionals over the years, you have probably been asked this question. Us HR people LOVE notes and documentation. Its so important for remembering conversations had or issues raised, even if they were not formal. Documentation helps to create evidence which may be useful at a later date and can make messy situations a whole lot easier to navigate.

When something happens at work and we need a record on file, do you know if you should use a file note or should you issue a formal warning? The answer, it depends!

What is a file note?

A file note is a simple record of what has occurred. This could be a record of a conversation where an issue has been raised or details of an incident which has occurred. Typically, the record includes the date, who was involved, who is writing the note, the issue and the outcome. File notes are generally for more minor issues or issues where you are not able to or it’s not appropriate to enter into formal disciplinary procedures. File notes can either sit in an employees personal folder or within another secure filing area only accessible by HR and managers. These file notes can be used at a later date to provide evidence that issues are not one off and behaviours are continuing.

What is a formal warning?

Formal warnings are letters which may be issued to an employee which outline performance or misconduct concerns, the plan of action moving forward, the timeline and consequences should there be repeated behaviour or additional concerns. Formal warning letters may be issued after a formal meeting has been held, employees should be provided 24 hours notice, be told the purpose and severity of the meeting and be offered access to a support person of their choosing to attend with them. Formal warning letters sit in employees personal files for future reference.

Which one should I use?

To decide if the situation warrants a file note or a formal warning letter, consider:

  • The severity of the issue – is there a work, health and safety issue or a reputation issue at play?
  • Is this a reoccurring issue or a one off?
  • Other contributing factors that you are aware of which you might need to take into consideration such as illness, mental health concerns, job pressure, family issues.
  • Has the formal warning processes have been followed? If not, you can not issue a formal warning.

If you are dealing with difficult performance or behavioural issues in your workplace Impact HR can help. Contact us on 1300474672 or via email info@impacthr.com.au for any assistance.

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