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A Correctional Supervisor’s Challenge – How to handle a Letter of Reprimand
By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ
Published: 08/06/2012

Guidence How to handle a Letter of Reprimand for Absenteeism or Performance Deficiencies

It sounds simple enough but it takes a little bit of skill to write a sound letter of reprimand that will allow the employee a second chance to becoming productive and proficient again. The letter should be written in an amicable tone that is associated with helping the employee and should not be written harsh, subjective or critical as it lists those concerns warranted. Whether this letter leads to a termination, a demotion or a reduction in job responsibilities the contents of this letter could provide those steps if written appropriately,.

The first step is addressing the reprimand appropriately without judgment or being subjective in demeanor. Keep in mind the purpose of the art in reprimanding employees or subordinates. Don’t let this letter become an obstacle in future successes or opportunities to learn from their mistakes.

How you respond determines response; the successfulness of such a task and if the approach is positive, your letter of reprimand should sent the employee a message that encourages positive feelings rather than negative feelings however, putting the employee on notice there are appropriate tools available to resurrect their effectiveness, their dependability and their performance

Before you write the letter:

Gather all your notes, your supporting documentation and put them in chronological order.

Note the dates of each incident documented and try to identify a pattern of behavior or in this case misbehavior.

Review all documents that the employee has provided responses to these previous incidents and project an inference that tells you if the employee has internal problems or external problems coming to work or doing their jobs.

Look for a blame pattern or a sign where the employee is asking for more training in a particular task or assignment noted or documented.

Examine your notes for previous comments made by the employee making promises to correct but failing to do so in a constructive manner.

Find notes from previous supervisors and compare behavior or patterns for information that will determine a level of frequency or incompetence.

Review the notes for confirmation that the employee has received any informal or verbal instructions, directions or reprimands regarding the subject at hand whether absenteeism or lack of performance standards.

Write a summary statement for your introduction to your meeting with the employee and cite the facts as they are documented and leave out any personal biases, judgments or subjective comments that may indicate unfairness or prejudiced thinking on your part. Remember that this letter will be part of a personnel file thus it must conform to the format directed by either policies or human resource guidance.

Writing the letter –

Be brief, be concise and to the point. Reprimand the employee in the very first paragraph of the letter. Inform him or her this letter serves as a formal (or informal according to your own policies) for the purpose served e.g. absenteeism, neglecting duties, poor performance standards etc.

Always include a lead statement that indicates this corrective action and any future or further corrective action may lead to more serious disciplinary action including up to termination from the job if the situation at hand continues.
    Detail the reason(s) for the letter in the second paragraph. Attach and show supportive documentation that is being discussed or revealed at the time of the meeting. Show and explain every source cited and give a narrative of your conclusions on every item cited as supportive data and proof of the deficiency or misconduct. Sources can be timesheets, personal evaluations, surveys, reports and interviews of co-workers or other supervisors.

    Explain consequences for these deficiencies or misconducts reported and how they impact the workplace, the team and the overall operation of the environment.

    Explain how these factors causes lack of confidence by supervisors, co-workers and loss of profits, or production as well as compliance with legal standards or applicable laws within your work environment.

    Close the letter by explaining what the employee must do in order to get back on track to continue working without further disciplinary action and include probationary periods to allow adjustment to be made within a specific time period or time frame. Make the time frame long enough to gather an accurate evaluation or performance assessment by different sources and instruments.

    If the case requires supportive documentation to address absenteeism, indicate a doctor’s not for absences will be required for all illness that takes you away from the job. If the case is performance issues or a need for remedial training, indicate a training module will be provided to assist with the skill building techniques and assessment or tests will be given to indicate proficiency or learning skills progress.

    Last but not least, indicate in your letter the consequences for failing to abide by these conditions outlined in your letter as well as human resource policies related to the subject at hand. Include failure to abide may lead to more disciplinary action up to and including termination. Indicate a need for counseling and cite assistance programs available within the system and outside through the appropriate healthcare providers.
Closing the meeting after serving the letter –

If reasons given for these recurring problems are personal or linked to family problems (hence internal or external inferences) indicate your willingness to help but that the first step in resolving this matter is individual accountability and responsibility to change the pattern of behavior. Insist that they employee follows a corrective plan that brings them back on track and within those parameters for acceptable conduct or performance according to policies in place.

Editor’s note: Carl ToersBijns (retired), worked in corrections for over 25 yrs He held positions of a Correctional Officer I, II, III [Captain] Chief of Security Mental Health Treatment Center – Program Director – Associate Warden - Deputy Warden of Administration & Operations. Car’s prison philosophy is all about the safety of the public, staff and inmates, "I believe my strongest quality is that I create strategies that are practical, functional and cost effective."

Other articles by ToersBijns:


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  4. Fred Davis on 08/12/2012:

    Good guidelines and the approach is firm, consistent and does not provoke emotion. These principles should be a basis for all constructive verbal intercourse.

  5. jamestown0509 on 08/06/2012:

    Fair-firm-consistent. Those have to be the basis and process for any administrative or disciplinary action.

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