How to Issue a Verbal Warning for Poor Performance

Here Are Tips for Issuing a Verbal Warning for Poor Performance

People in office.
••• Gary Burchell / Getty Images

Supervisors issue a verbal warning to an employee when poor performance warrants a disciplinary action more severe than supervisory counseling and coaching. The purpose of the verbal warning is to get the employee's attention when normal managerial discussion, meetings, and suggestions for improvement are not working.

The verbal warning is provided following the failure of informal supervisory coaching to help the employee improve the required performance.The warning is documented by the supervisor in his or her informal notes about the counseling he or she has provided to help the employee improve.  

Documenting a Verbal Warning

If the verbal warning is not documented, with the employee's signature indicating that he or she has received the warning, it may as well not exist. The verbal warning would be difficult to prove during any potential progressive discipline warnings or future litigation.

Employees also tend to take any documented criticism of their performance to heart. In writing notes about the verbal warning, the supervisor hoped to get through to the employee. Your normal organization supervisor is grateful if he or she never has to address an employee's poor performance. The supervisor would rather provide leadership to gung-ho, performing employees. This allows him to avoid confrontation and conflict which most supervisors want to avoid at all costs.

This verbal warning documentation is included with any other written documentation that the supervisor maintains such as employee goals, progress, backup information for the employee's performance development plan (PDP) or performance appraisal, and so forth.

These notes are not part of an employee's personnel file; they are private supervisory documentation of an employee's performance. If the employee's performance eventually warrants termination, the verbal warning paperwork may end up in the employee's personnel file as a backup to prove formal progressive disciplinary action.

Disciplinary Action for the Employee Personnel File

The verbal warning is generally followed, in disciplinary action procedures, by a written verbal warning that begins the documentation of disciplinary action in the employee's personnel file. The written verbal warning provides the beginning of the documentation necessary for an organization to fire an employee.

If an employee's performance fails to improve during a series of disciplinary action steps, the employer has legally documented the steps taken to help an employee improve and retain employment.

Through this process, the employer has demonstrated the steps taken by the employer to help the employee improve performance. The employer has also demonstrated that he or she did take necessary action to help an employee improve and that the subsequent disciplinary action was not arbitrary.

While the steps in disciplinary action, that include a verbal warning, differ from company to company, and even within a company, depending on the nature of the non-performance, a verbal warning is a negative event. The employee has failed to perform at a level that the employer determines requires disciplinary action.

In keeping with the disciplinary action policy outlined in the employee handbook, a verbal warning may be the first, the last, or the only step required before employment termination, depending on the severity of the non-performance or the precipitating event.

It is why employee handbooks should remain wishy-washy in terms of whether a formal progressive disciplinary action is always followed. If the employers have the option to terminate the employee from his job much earlier, that is a positive for the employer.

You don't want an employee hanging around, for example, if he is having an impact on the work and the morale of the other employees or if he is actively interfering with progress.

Examples of Performance that Warrant a Verbal Warning

These are examples of times when a manager might want to use a verbal warning. An employee is consistently late for work, leaving work early, or not working the required 40 hours.

  • The employee is failing to complete assignments on time because of procrastination and poor work planning.
  • The employee is interacting negatively with coworkers or customers.
  • For no reason, the employee fails to gather important backup information and research necessary to adequately study and present solutions to a problem or process that needs improvement.
  • The employee talks flippantly and nastily to his boss.

Employees don't want to receive a verbal warning but if their performance warrants one, this is how you need to use the verbal warning. Here is information about how to write a letter of reprimand. A written verbal warning is an employee reprimand and would follow the same pattern.