Verbal Warnings at Work

11 September 2020

If an employee is underperforming, or misbehaving, while at work you can take various steps address this.

It’s important to try and stop the behaviour before taking more drastic steps (such as disciplinary action or ending their contract of employment).

There are important Irish employment laws to adhere when doing so.

This is because giving a verbal warning is the first step in your formal disciplinary procedure.

In this guide, we explain how they work, your employee’s rights, and the process you need to follow to remain compliant with Irish employment laws.

What is a verbal warning?

It’s when you have a meeting with an employee to warn them their work and/or behaviour must improve.

And that if it doesn’t, more stages in your formal disciplinary procedure will follow.

Ultimately, an employee verbal warning can lead to more disciplinary processes.

That can lead to the termination of their contract—should their actions continue to impede the productivity of your business.

How long does a verbal warning last?

There isn’t a set limit for your verbal warning. As it’s informal, before the beginning of your formal disciplinary proceedings, it can last as long as you like.

However, three month is a reasonable amount of time for a first verbal warning.

This is because an informal verbal warning doesn’t carry the same weight as, for say, holding a disciplinary meeting.

An example may be for an employee who has suddenly started arriving to work late—if that continues for a few weeks, you should provide them with a verbal warning.

See how they respond—many members of staff will immediately address the issue.

If the employee’s performance picks up rapidly, then you can remove that from their file.

In the case it doesn’t improve, then you may want to leave it on their record for six months. After which, you can provide a second verbal warning.

Or step up to a formal disciplinary process, depending on the severity of the issue your employee’s conduct is creating.

So, how long do verbal warnings stay on record? Well, it depends. It can be as little as three months. You should explain to your employee if their conduct improves, then you can strike it from their record very quickly.

Conversely, written warnings can last for 12 months, after which you can advance your disciplinary procedure.

How to give a verbal warning to an employee

Issuing a verbal warning is a straightforward process. A line manager will, typically, provide have a private meeting with the employee in question to express their concerns.  

Although it takes place on an informal basis, they should still take steps to ensure confidentiality. Don’t provide the warning with all of their colleagues watching, for example.

There’s no set way with how to do a verbal warning. A verbal warning is, essentially, a private discussion—holding it alone in a meeting room together is a good way of going about it.

That way, your business puts across concerns and allows the employee to respond.

They may have a valid reason for a drop in performance, such as personal life issues, which could be rectified with annual leave.

By determining this through a verbal warning in work, you can act accordingly.

You should inform the employee about what will happen if their performance doesn’t improve. Crucially, you must allow them the time to display they have reacted to your concerns.

Your verbal warning procedure

With the above in mind, you should establish and follow a verbal warning procedure for your business.

It, hopefully, won’t be a regular occurrence for you to deal with. But it can prove a useful process to ensure productivity remains to a high standard.

You can use these steps to form the basis for the early stage of your disciplinary procedure:

  • Provide a verbal warning, informing the employee they need to improve—and why that’s the case.
  • Let them explain their side of the story.
  • Provide them with a plan that’ll oversee their steps towards improvement.
  • Offer additional support if you think it’ll help, such as coaching or training for professional development.
  • Establish the dates for when you expect to see an improvement. Such as over the following three months.
  • Issue a verbal warning letter—do note, this isn’t a written warning. It’s just to indicate the employee has received a verbal warning. It’s important to have this on record, should disciplinary procedures need to go further.

How many verbal warnings are there before a written warning?

In most cases, you’ll provide one verbal warning. After that, you should issue two written warnings (one initial, one final). If there’s no genuine improvement with conduct after this phase, you can look to dismiss the member of staff.

However, it’s important to document the entire disciplinary procedures, verbal warning process. You must be able to show:

  • Your procedure was fair.
  • Throughout the procedure, the reason for the verbal warning (and any subsequent written warnings) was clear.
  • The results of failing to improve are clear.
  • There’s an internal appeals process available.

If you don’t follow this process and dismiss an employee, the former member of staff may make a claim against you for unfair dismissal.

That can result in an employment tribunal—so, you must be able to show the process you followed clearly.

Need our help?

We can help with your disciplinary procedure, including first steps such as written or verbal warnings. Get in touch for support:1890 252 923.

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