I have a document that I'm drafting that, at the moment, has a sentence that reads something like:

Remove X from all company computers. Deliberate failure to do so constitutes grounds for punishment.

"Deliberate failure" is bugging me. I want to imply that a person has to knowingly, willfully, and repeatedly misbehave, but I don't want to imply that simply forgetting once is going to get them in trouble. "Failure" specifically makes it sound like mistakes will be punished.

How do I restate this so that I clearly and explicitly imply that flagrance is the key here, in simple, concise terms?

8 Answers 8


Did anyone notice that your sentence describes merely the "grounds for punishment". So punishment is at your discretion. Its a warning, not a threat. You're saying what could happen, not what will happen. You're saying you won't assume it was deliberate. Retaining that element of humanity in your grammar shows that you recognize an element of humanity in them – the (essential) ability to choose, and also to make mistakes. Ask yourself, are you writing this to persuade them to do the right thing, or is this line simply to absolve you of possible legal repercussions?

I would keep it as simple as possible. "Remove X from all company computers. Failure to do so constitutes grounds for punishment."

Personally, I don't think 'compliance' is a nice word to use when talking about people's actions. And dictionary definitions give only the most basic etymology of words. When you're concerned with the tone and extended meanings associated with words, its good to know where they come from and in what context they're typically used. We don't talk about businesses 'behaving'. Why talk about people complying (unless you want them to focus on the legal implications of everything they do. Ugly!)

Further reading: http://www.amazon.com/Jurismania-Madness-American-Historical-Institute/dp/0195130839

  • Very incisive. I am, in fact, writing the memo to try and impress upon employees the legal urgency of the matter, but I also don't want to dehumanize them.
    – Emmett R.
    Commented May 15, 2014 at 15:55

Noncompliance constitutes grounds for punishment.

You are telling them so if they don't it would be deliberate. You are asking them to comply.

failure to follow an official rule or obey a law

  • Closer. Noncompliance certainly sounds more professional. However, it still doesn't address the idea of being more than an accident.
    – Emmett R.
    Commented May 14, 2014 at 14:57
  • You can say willful noncompliance but if someone sent me an email to take software off my computer, how could I accidentally not do it? Commented May 14, 2014 at 14:59
  • Specifically, it's sensitive data that could take many forms. I want to make sure that people who make a good-faith effort aren't afraid of being slapped down for forgetting one little file, as long as it doesn't happen again.
    – Emmett R.
    Commented May 14, 2014 at 15:01
  • I would just say noncompliance... I understand your issue but how do you know if someone left a file out on purpose or not? Makes you seem pompous if you make it too harsh. Always could have a third sentence. We will be doing checks on so-and-so date to ensure the files were removed. Commented May 14, 2014 at 15:05
  • Noncompliance is what you can prove. Anyone who willfully fails to comply can claim that it was due to innocent neglect, which is hard to disprove. If you want to only punish willful neglect, you have a tough prosecution job on your hands.
    – Kaz
    Commented May 15, 2014 at 4:10

I think "deliberate failure" clearly implies "knowingly and willfully" ignoring the instructions. It does not imply that simply forgetting once will get someone in trouble. Don't change anything.


It sounds like you expect people to:

engage in a good faith effort to remove X from all company computers whenever X is observed to be present

That would be sufficient in a contract. If your audience does not understand that this is a contract they are required to follow, then remind them of that.

This is official policy. Please review our policies here [link]. Failure to follow policy may be grounds for [review/whatever].


"Remove X from all company computers. Any nonobservance of this rule would constitute grounds for punishment."


"Remove X from all company computers. Any infringement upon this rule would constitute grounds for punishment."


"Remove X from all company computers. Any infraction of this rule would constitute grounds for punishment."

infringement: a breach or infraction, as of a law or right, transgression.

nonobservance: failure to observe.

infraction: an act that breaks a rule or law.

  • Nonobservance seems rather clunky to me (and honestly sounds made-up, even if it is in a dictionary). Breach doesn't imply intent. One can breach the terms of a contract without intending to do so (or even knowing they have done so).
    – Doc
    Commented May 14, 2014 at 23:07

I think reworking both sentences makes it easiest; also a little suggestion as to how to soften it so it sounds less harsh. Personally I think giving a bit of a justification before making a threat softens it a bit, and 'disciplinary action' is more standard than 'punishment' at least where I've worked.

Make a concerted effort to remove X from all company computers. Due to the seriousness of this issue, anyone not doing so [optionally: by <some date>] will be subject to disciplinary action.

So, this should address your concerns of not making people worry that they might miss something by only asking for a "concerted effort", and now the second phrase should no longer be too strong since it's only threatening punishment if you don't make a concerted effort, rather than not completely succeeding.

And, the optional section is just a suggestion to hurry up the procrastinators. :)


Deliberate sounds a little clunky and harsh. You could say "intentional failure to..."


To answer the question, to deliberately and continuously behave as if a rule did not exist, and to do as one pleases, is to flout the rule.

Anyone flouting the rule prohibiting installations of X will be subject to disciplinary action.

Flouting is more than forgetting, and more than defying a rule just one time. For instance, if you carefully drive through a red light in a quiet town at 3 in the morning, you aren't flouting the rules of traffic.

X only needs to be removed once. Not removing it isn't something that one can do repeatedly; one cannot be a repeat offender in neglecting to do a one-time action. But, of course, one can procrastinate in performing it, and one can repeatedly ignore requests to do it.

It is very difficult to prove that someone is defying the rule, or simply neglecting to perform the removal.

The way to deal with this is to set an initial deadline, and then a second deadline. The second memo makes it clear that installations of X found after the second deadline will be assume do to cases of defiance of the rules, rather than forgetfulness, and subject to disciplinary action.

Even with a second deadline, offenders can still invoke plausible deniability, such as:

  • I was not aware X was on this computer; the machine had a prior user who must have put it there.
  • I ran the uninstaller and it seemed to work; gee how come it's still there? I'm shocked and outraged.
  • I recently lost some files and did a bunch of restoring from backup; X must have been accidentally restored. I'm so sorry about that!
  • I don't use X and never installed it; someone planted it on my computer to get me in hot water.
  • The famous excuse: "I didn't get the memo."
  • ...

If you want to punish only intents, and not actions or neglects, you will have a hard time.

Moreover, if you send the message that only willfull defiance is subject to discipline, you're tacitly saying that it's actually okay for X to be installed, if it's only due to innocent neglect.

In fact if X is harmful, everyone must remove it, no excuses. Those neglecting to to so should be disciplined for the offense of neglecting to perform a required work duty.

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