A Verbal Warning Without Warning!

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about warning resulting from ignorance:

Can my company give me a verbal warning against a “fundamental requirement” that I didn’t know about or have knowledge about? There is nothing in my training that talks about the situation.

Signed, Blindsided

Dear Blindsided:

The most basic answer is, yes, your company can give you a verbal warning about anything that is viewed as problematic for work. A verbal warning is usually the lowest level of progressive discipline and implies it was the first time an event happened OR that there may be mitigation for what happened OR that your manager and/or others thought it was not intentional. However, it was enough of a concern that they want to be sure it doesn’t happen again.

You don’t say what the warning was about, except that it was referred to as a fundamental requirement. Even if it wasn’t specifically talked about in your training, here is a guideline: Would a reasonable person in your line of work be able to determine what to do or what not to do about that situation, based on logic, best practices in similar businesses and general principles of the company? Could you have asked someone if you had a doubt?If a reasonable person would have done what you did and not considered it to be a problem, perhaps you can appeal the decision. At least you can write a letter to place in your personnel folder to explain your thought process about it. Or, you can talk to your manager and explain again so you feel better about it and so does he or she. But, if it seems likely that most people would have done the more acceptable thing, you should probably just use this as sanctions are intended to be used: A reminder that sticks better than a casual correction.If it really, truly seems unfair, talk to HR or someone in charge of personnel matters and see what your options might be organizationally. They may be able to explain the action better. Or, they may not realize what has happened and not approve the disciplinary action.As a final thought:

You say you received a verbal warning. I’ve responded as though you received a formal disciplinary action referred to as a verbal warning. You may be referring to your boss calling you in and correcting you sternly. If that is the sum of it, you will probably just need to accept it as is and learn from it or avoid getting into that situation in the future.At the very least, I think you should suggest that the situation be made part of training so that others are aware of what is required. I can imagine all of this has been frustrating, but I hope you will move forward and not let it have a negative impact on your feelings or outlook. You will certainly be in a better situation to assist others if they encounter the same scenario!Best wishes to you. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.