A logo with a green background featuring the letter E and L combined like the letter "elf.
The logo for the esteemed employment law firm.
Final Written Warning

Final Written Warning: What Happens Next? 

You’ve received your final written warning.  Perhaps you are unsure what this means.  Does this mean that you will be fired?

Will your employer give you a chance to turn things around?

I won’t sugarcoat it.  Getting a final written warning is not good.

But it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the nail in the coffin.

What is a Final Written Warning?

A final written warning is a disciplinary action.  Typically, a company will give a written warning to an employee who habitually exhibits poor performance.  

Employers tend to give a series of warnings leading up to a termination.  Employees commonly receive verbal warnings from supervisors or managers.

But written warnings tend to be more severe.  If an employer issues a written warning, then it may be gearing up for a termination.

Employers generally have a meeting to discuss the final warning before taking further disciplinary action.

At that time, if they haven’t already, they might put you on a performance improvement plan.  This will formally outline what actions that you need to take to avoid termination.

It also serves as another further documentation of your poor performance at work.  

Can You Go Straight to a Final Written Warning?

Employers can go straight to a final written warning.  In fact, employers have no obligation to give you any warning at all.

Under employment laws, company’s may fire an employee for any non-illegal reason.  Illegal reasons typically include discrimination or retaliation.  

Employers are under no obligation to use progressive disciplinary action with you.  Rather, they can go straight to terminating you, if they choose.

Most companies, however, will give you a verbal warning or a written warning before firing you.  

Failing to document the termination process can lead to a wrongful termination lawsuit.  An unfair dismissal can cost the company far more than implementing a progressive disciplinary system.  

Further, firing an employee without warning lowers morale.  Most employees expect that they will at least get a warning before their employer fires them.  

How Many Written Warnings are You Entitled to?

As discussed above, your employer does not have to give you any written warnings.  But your employer will typically have policies outlining its disciplinary process.

Typically, companies will give you between one to three written warnings.

But there are no hard and fast rules here.  

Your company might allow for 1 verbal warning before termination.  Or it might only fire an employee after he or she has had a chance to improve.

It completely depends on the company. 

How Long Does a Final Written Warning Last For?

For our purposes, a final written warning usually lasts for as long as the warning stays on your employment file.

This means as long as it takes for your employer not to consider your final written warning when making employment decisions.

For example, your employer might look through your file to determine whether you had performance issues or other misconduct before deciding to promote you.

If your employer sees that you have had a final written warning, you may lose out on advancement opportunities.

It May Last for 12 months

There is no hard and fast rule for when a final written warning will end.  Practically speaking, it  will last as long as your employer wants it to last.

Remember, employment is at will.  Your employer can fire you for any reason.  And the reason why your employer decided to give you the warning is so you won’t sue.

But given that employers want to seem fair and keep morale up, companies tend to only keep someone on final written warning for a year.

There are a few reasons why an employer might choose this length of time.  

The written warnings correct the performance issues:

If the written warnings issues correct your performance issues, then the employer would rather retain you.  Employee turnover is costly.  The company would have to take time to find your replacement.

And then the replacement would likely need training.  This is not to mention that the company would have to conduct interviews for your position.  These interviews will take time.  

And this time costs the company money, especially over the long term.

Avoiding Lawsuits

This mostly comes down to, however, the desire for the employee to not view the termination as an unfair dismissal.  

If you received a warning at work, you understand that your job might be in jeopardy.  And you likely understand that a verbal warning is less serious than a written warning.

If you received a final written warning, you know that you are on your last legs.  

The company has already avoided the lawsuits.  But it knows that it can’t keep you on written warning forever.  

So it keeps you on for long enough to ensure a habitual change in behavior.  But not long enough so that their policy can be viewed as discriminatory.

Too long of a policy might lead disgruntled workers to question who was being placed on final written warning more.  If the company placed minorities or women on written warnings at greater rates than white males, then a good argument exists that its policy was discriminatory.

Employers know that they need to toe the line with a long written warning policy to ensure performance correction.  But also make sure that the policy is not so long that it invites lawsuits.

Will Your Employer Fire You Anyway?

As discussed, your employment is at will.  Your employer might have its mind made up.  And it can fire you anyway.  

Large companies, however, tend to stick to procedure.  They know that they have their termination procedure in place for a reason.

And their lawyers have advised them on following dismissal procedure.  

Usually, your employer will give you a real chance to improve your performance.  They have an interest in implementing their policies fairly and evenly across the board with every employee.

Any time an employment policy is not implemented in the same way to everyone, an employment lawsuit is likely to follow.  

What Can You Do?

You have received he disciplinary action.  Maybe you did not see it coming.  This certainly happens.  There is often a disconnect between the employee and the employer on work misconduct and performance issues. 

Here’s some suggestions for handling the situation.

Do Not Freak Out

Your first reaction, and rightfully so, may be to freak out.  You shouldn’t do this.  Your employer did not terminate you yet.  And by staying calm, you have a much better chance to formulate the plan.

Figure Out What’s True

You should read the disciplinary action.  This is important.  You want to understand what it says and what it does not say.  

Are the facts true?  Did you do what they said you did?  Can you explain the situation in another way?

Sometimes things get misconstrued.  You should iron out what are the facts and what you can explain at your meeting with your supervisor.

Prepare for Your Meeting 

You will likely have a meeting with your boss to discuss the disciplinary action.  You need to be prepare.

You need to have questions.  If you were on a performance improvement plan, you should try to clearly outline expectations going forward.

Even if they give you a performance improvement plan, you should ask questions about what you need to do.  And make sure that you are fully aware of how you need to improve going forward.

This might be a good time, in a delicate way, to discuss the warning and any facts with which you do not agree.  

Appeal to Higher Ups

You may have a chance to appeal this decision.  Many companies allow employees to challenge serious disciplinary actions.  

If you appeal, you should have clearly written out your reasons.  These shouldn’t be minor discrepancies.  

Rather, you should have a solid reason why your disciplinary action was unfair.  If you can’t articulate one, working on your performance might be a better use of your time.  


Just because you’re in a bad spot at work does not mean it’s time to throw in the towel.  You can improve your performance.

And companies have an interest in fairly enforcing their policies.  
How will you handle your warning?  Will you do what’s necessary to improve?

Give us a call if you need help figuring that out.  We can help you out in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and anywhere in Pennsylvania. 

we will review Your Case for Free

Skip to content