What is an informal verbal warning?

A quiet chat and a letter of concern often solve problems in the workplace

First published on Thursday, Jun 04, 2020

Last updated on Thursday, Nov 04, 2021

An informal verbal warning is often all you need to improve an employee’s conduct or performance.

You would normally issue this type of warning before giving someone a written verbal warning.

Reasons for giving an informal verbal warning

You will need to give at least one employee a verbal warning at work at some point in your time as a boss.

It might be because of the employee’s performance, for example:

  • Poor standards of work, such as too many mistakes.
  • Inability to cope with instructions given to them.
  • Struggling to handle their workload.
  • Lack of effort or ambition.
  • Lack of skills or training for the work required.

Meeting with your staff once a week to review their targets and their skills can help you to stay up-to-date on their progress.

Or you might find that someone in your team is at fault for their conduct, for example:

  • They are late for work a lot.
  • They have misused IT.
  • They are not co-operating with others in their team.
  • Bullying.

Warning an employee

Okay, so you think that someone in your staff is guilty of one of the above reasons. You now need to make sure you know how to give a verbal warning to an employee.

These small steps are often known as the pre-disciplinary procedure.

  1. Tell them what they need to improve (timekeeping, work standards, work rate, etc.).
  2. Give them the chance to explain why their work has been subpar or why their conduct has been below what you expect of them.
  3. Give them a plan to make their improvements.
  4. If you think that they could benefit from training or coaching, make sure to bring this up.
  5. Set them a date to have made the changes by.
  6. Give them a written note that covers all the above points. You should both sign it.

What happens if they don’t improve?

If your member of staff hasn’t taken the steps to change their conduct or improve their work, you should move on to the next stage in the procedure.

This can be a verbal warning or the first written warning.

You will want to handle this next step in a fair and consistent way to make sure that your employee gets justice for their conduct or performance.

The smart move is to set out your procedures for discipline and grievance in an open document that all staff can read. The staff handbook is a good choice, but you could also include them in the statement of terms and conditions of employment.

Follow the Acas Code of Practice to make sure you apply fair and consistent procedures.

Verbal warning for sickness or absence

Absence from work costs a business more than £600 on average per employee per year. If someone is absent, the rest of their team is under pressure to cover their workload or maintain team targets.

This can have a bad impact on a business and staff morale.

You should take the time each week to monitor the absence of your staff. Make a note of any patterns. If somebody is taking every other Thursday off sick, it could be more than just a coincidence.

Have a chat with them to try to learn what’s causing them to be off work so often, and round the chat off with a note for improvement.

If an employee has a disability, exercise caution when handing out an informal warning at work. You should make reasonable adjustments to give a disabled employee the chance to succeed in your workplace.

These adjustments might include:

  • Extra training.
  • Adapting their workstation.

You should have rules in place for disabled employees and applicants regarding dismissal, redundancy, promotion, pay, terms and conditions, and recruitment.

Remember, the informal verbal warning is a great way to snuff out any early problems with conduct or performance—but be fair and reasonable. If somebody is late once, you don’t need to go straight for the warning.

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