Verbal Warning at Work

  • Disciplinary
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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

(Last updated )

In this guide, we’ll look at the rules on verbal warnings, using formal, and informal warnings; and the how to stay on the right side of the law legal rules when actioning one against an employee.

When your employees break workplace rules, you may decide to issue them with a warning.

Some cases of misbehaviour can be resolved through a quick telling off or quiet chat. Whilst others should legally go through the correct disciplinary procedures.

But it might prove tough deciding whether to issue a written or verbal warning at work. It could result in discrimination claims, costly compensation fees, and business disruption.

Peninsula helps small, medium, and large businesses ensure HR compliance. Contact us now and see how we can support you.

We also provide total tribunal support if an employee raises a claim against you, contact us today and see how we can support you.

What is a verbal warning?

A verbal warning is given when an employee behaves inappropriately, and their actions go against your company policies.

Verbal warnings can be given for misconduct which might not seem extremely serious, but nonetheless should be dealt with.

There are two types of verbal warning: formal and informal.

An informal verbal warning is normally used for minor or less-serious misconduct. Through an informal chat, these cases can be resolved quickly and don’t require further disciplinary action.

Examples of these can include, talking during training or logging into computers late a few times.

A formal verbal warning is issued when its deemed necessary to follow through with disciplinary actions. This generally includes an investigation and hearing.

A formal verbal warning is usually given for actions like:

  • Constant lateness.
  • Constant absence.
  • Failing to cooperate with colleagues.
  • Failing to follow work practices.
  • Constant oversights or mistakes during tasks.

Verbal warning procedure 

A disciplinary procedure must be followed for an employer to achieve a dismissal, which is both fair and consistent.

It’s important to follow the correct disciplinary procedure when you action a verbal or written warning – for both formal and informal sanctions.

For a verbal reprimand, follow the ACAS Code of Practice which sets out disciplinary regulations. The Code presents the minimum requirements for a fair procedure. And what needs to follow specific cases of misconduct.

Here are the steps to follow when giving employees verbal warnings:

  • Collect the evidence - start the process by collecting the evidence for the case – establish the nature and extent of the allegation.
  • Inform the alleged employee - If you decide the case doesn’t require a formal procedure, an informal verbal warning is a suitable step to take. Here, you don’t need to action anything apart from informing the employee.
  • Carry out a disciplinary hearing- when the disciplinary hearing is carried out, you must present to the employee the basis of the case, like allegations, evidence, and accounts. And you should allow them to defend their case too.

Pass a fair and reasonable decision once the hearing has concluded. And depending on the outcome, follow through with the appropriate disciplinary.

Are verbal warnings documented?

Even if a verbal warning has been given, all disciplinary action must be issued to the alleged employee in writing

This can be done through a verbal warning letter or form. It’s useful to document it, as you can use the record of verbal warning as evidence in legal hearings.

A verbal warning form should include:

  • Final hearing decisions - the outcome will outline any misconduct or if any decrease in performance has been proven.
  • Appropriate disciplinary action - i.e., a formal verbal warning.
  • Consequences for the misconduct.
  • What changes in behaviour need to be met or improvements need to be made to performance.
  • Longevity of the verbal warning.
  • Employee rights, such as appealing and representation.

This written confirmation of a verbal warning should not be converted into a written warning. It is a record of the verbal warning that has been issued to the employer.

Do you have to give a verbal warning first? 

If your disciplinary policy states so, you can issue a written warning before verbal one.

But generally, verbal warnings are the first step in a disciplinary procedure; and a written warning comes during or after.

You should be careful not to confuse the written form of a verbal warning and a written disciplinary warning.

A verbal warning is written down to document the allegation, which is saved in records or used as judicial evidence.

A written warning is given if the employee fails to improve work standards after discussing the issue with them.

How long does a verbal warning last?

The length and limits of a verbal warning will ultimately depend on your disciplinary policies.

There are no laws or regulations on how long a verbal warning should last. But normally, they can last between three to six months.

You should clearly present how long verbal warnings will last in your company policies. But remember, whether a warning is verbal or not, it shouldn’t be unreasonably long.

Get expert advice on verbal warnings Peninsula

Whether the misconduct is big or small, you should always deal with it as soon as possible.

If you issue a verbal warning or are following through with disciplinary policies – your staff need to fully understand the consequences for bad work-practice.

Without a clear understanding or proper compliance, you could risk actioning unfair punishments – leading to tribunal claims and expensive compensation payments.

Peninsula Business Services provides 24-hour HR advice and can help ensure you are compliant when issuing verbal warnings and other disciplinary actions.

Want to find out more? Contact us on 0800 028 2420 and book a free consultation with an HR consultant today.

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