Verbal Warning at Work

By Kathryn Adderley
13 Oct 2022

From time to time, your employees may break the rules so you may need to issue a verbal warning at work.

These tend to be quick conversations that address a minor issue and are considered ‘off the record’. Other times, you may be required to go through a disciplinary procedure. If unaddressed, negative employee performance could escalate.

It can be hard determining when to issue verbal or written warnings at work. But if this is mishandled, it could lead to discrimination claims and costly compensation fees.

Call one of our experienced employment law advisors for 24/7 disciplinary advice, on 0800 470 2776.

In this guide, we'll explain what a verbal warning is, the verbal warning procedure, and what to do if further disciplinary action is needed.

What is a verbal warning?

A verbal warning is given when an employee's behaviour is inappropriate or their actions go against your company policy.

Issuing verbal warnings is usually the first step of the disciplinary process. Although it's the first step, it can still carry serious weight.

Different types of verbal warnings

There are two types of verbal warnings at work: formal and informal.

Informal verbal warning

An informal verbal warning is used for minor misconduct. With an informal warning, cases can be resolved quickly with a chat and don't usually require further action.

Formal verbal warning

A formal verbal warning is used when an employee's conduct needs to be met with disciplinary actions.

A formal verbal warning can be issued for:

  • Being consistently late.
  • Being continuously absent.
  • Failing to follow instructions.
  • Consistently making mistakes in an employee's work.

What behavioural issues can cause a verbal warning?

An employee's negative behaviour can lead to a damaging impact on the company, such as poor attitude or performance.

These issues that lead to a verbal warning can include: The issues that can lead to a verbal warning could be

  • An employee isn't following the company dress code or their appearance isn't appropriate.
  • An employee is misusing company property, such as their computer or company credit card.
  • An employee is bullying or harassing other employees – this may be cause for more serious action.
  • An employee isn't following the guidance of their line manager.

Is there a verbal warning procedure?

Yes, a full disciplinary investigation and hearing should be conducted before a formal verbal warning. The verbal warnings procedure includes:

Review your company policies

You should confirm the actions go against your current policy on disciplinary action and the employee's contract.

Get the facts

Begin an investigation into the cause of the issue/conduct and gather evidence related to it. Examples of the evidence may be in the form of a video, written note, or image. Once you have finished a full investigation, you may proceed to a disciplinary hearing.

Notify the employee

You must notify the employee that you're moving forward with a disciplinary hearing by sending a formal notice.

Hold a disciplinary hearing

You will explain the issue and provide evidence that supports the accusation. The employee should also be able to tell their side of the story. The employee has the right to be accompanied by a trade union representativeor a fellow worker. Ideally this should be requested before the meeting, but if they request accompaniment during the meeting you should adjourn it to allow for this request.

Create a plan of action

Once the evidence has been presented, the employer will decide what the next steps are and what disciplinary action is needed.

An employee's record, role in the company, and issue of a verbal warning will play a part in the outcome. For example, if:

  • There's no evidence of wrongdoing, no further action is needed.
  • There's proof of misconduct, the employee will receive a formal verbal warning. This will be added to the employee's file.
  • Further disciplinary action is needed such as a written warning or dismissal in some cases.

Are verbal warnings documented?

Yes, documenting a verbal warning is a simple way for you to have written proof. It should include:

  • The base of the warning.
  • The outcome of the disciplinary meeting.
  • The disciplinary action being taken (if any).
  • The impact on the employee.
  • What the employee needs to improve on.
  • The employee's right to appeal.

Ideally, the verbal warning document will be signed by the employee and an HR representative that is involved with the disciplinary procedures.

A written confirmation of a verbal warning shouldn't be converted into a written warning. It's a record of the verbal warning that has been issued by the employer.

Storage room with files


How long does a verbal warning last?

This can depend on your company policies. Usually, a verbal warning can last for three to six months. A verbal warning letter should be disregarded when expired.

Written warnings

A written warning is a formal warning that you can give to the employee at the end of the disciplinary procedure.

Written warnings should state:

  • What the misconduct or performance issue is.
  • What changes are needed, alongside a timescale.
  • What happens if changes aren't made.
  • What happens if there is further misconduct.
  • How long the warning stays in place.

First written warning

A first written warning can be the initial step an employer will take when misconduct or poor performance occurs.

Final written warning

This type of warning can be given in the timescale if:

  • The employee repeats their behaviour or misconduct.
  • The employee doesn't improve job performance issues.
  • The employee fails to improve work standards.

Clarify what this timescale is, so the employee knows when the next meeting will be held. If an employee doesn't meet the requirements of the final formal written warning in the timescale set by you, it can lead to. Make sure you follow a correct dismissal process by clicking here.

Taking formal disciplinary action

Depending on the seriousness of the misconduct or performance issues, you may look at other disciplinary action.

You must also check with the employment contract to see what is allowed and discuss it with your employee.

What is a fair disciplinary procedure?

If you have tried to resolve the issue with informal verbal warnings, but feel you need to start formal disciplinary action, you must tell your employee. You should follow the ACAS Code of Practice minimum requirements for a fair procedure.

This should be done in writing and include:

  • Information about the misconduct or unsatisfactory performance.
  • Consequences such as a written warning.

The employee should possess this information to prepare for the disciplinary hearing.

When is a dismissal needed?

You may decide to end an employee's contract for the following reasons:

  • Gross misconduct.
  • The disciplinary procedures have to be repeated because of a previous final warning.

To keep the procedure fair, you must tell your employee:

  • The reasons for dismissal.
  • The date the employment contract will terminate.
  • What the notice period is.
  • An employee's right to appeal.

Make sure you avoid unfair dismissal claims by following a fair procedure before you decide on dismissing your employee.

Can an employee appeal the decision?

As an employer, you should offer your employee the right to appeal. They can raise an appeal if:

  • They think the outcome is too serious.
  • If any disciplinary actions or the procedure was wrong.

Get advice on verbal warnings at work from Croner

Depending on an employee's behaviour, you may need to issue a verbal warning at work. Especially if the issue goes against your company policies.

If you mishandle the disciplinary procedure, you could face unfair dismissal claims and hefty compensation costs. It's crucial you follow a fair disciplinary procedure when handling an employee's behaviour or misconduct.

Croner can help you with issuing a verbal warning in the workplace. We provide expert advice in employment law and contracts with our 24/7 HR advice line.

Give us a call on 01455 858 132 today.

About the Author

Kathryn Adderley

Kathryn Adderley is Croner's Senior Content Executive, responsible for producing, sourcing, and organising content across the website. She has a background of working agency side as a copywriter in the marketing industry and is also responsible for Croner's social media channels, so keep your eyes peeled for fresh content!

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