Should Verbal Warnings Be Documented In Wrtiting?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about recording a warning:

Other than sending a memo to the employee on things discussed during a verbal warning meeting, is it also appropriate to have a copy of the verbal warning kept on the employee’s personnel file for good? Thanks for your attention!

Signed, Documenting Dilemma

Dear Documenting Dilemma:

Your question seems to be asking if it is appropriate to keep documentation of a verbal warning in the personnel folder forever, or if it should be purged at some point. Or, you may be asking if a verbal warning should have written documentation. I’ll answer both of those as part of a broader answer that might help our other readers. I will use the term “formal verbal warning” to describe the first step in a progressive discipline system (For example: Verbal warning, written warning, reprimand, loss of salary or time, suspension, firing.) as compared to a warning given by a supervisor, verbally. (“Greg, don’t do that again or you’ll get in trouble.”)

Many organizations do not include a verbal warning as part of a formal process, with the view that a supervisor can simply remind an employee about rules and policies, and thus avoid the formal process. That saves time and paperwork, and often heads off a problem before it develops.Another reason many organizations do not document at the verbal warning level is that many employees view anything in writing as a written reprimand, even though that is not correct from a management viewpoint. A verbal warning can be documented in writing but still be at the lowest level of formal correction–the verbal warning level. If, however, a verbal warning is a formal part of the disciplinary system, most organizations require the maintenance of a short document indicating that a verbal warning was given. This usually has a specific format so that all documentation sounds the same: On October 15, 2007, Greg Sanders was given a verbal warning about punctuality by Team Leader Ron Harper. Greg was reminded of the policy about lateness and told that being late over three times in a six month period can result in formal disciplinary action. Signed, date, etc.

If no further incidents happen, the verbal warnings are often removed after a time frame of six months to a year. This reflects the fact that a verbal warning is usually just a reminder, not an indicator of a serious problem. If organizational policy allows it, employees should review their personnel folders regularly to ensure that it is accurate and that they have seen all the items. They should ask to have negative items removed if some time has elapsed. If there is no policy about keeping the records, it may be possible to have them removed. If not, the employee may be allowed to insert a note indicating that the warning was the last action that had to be taken about the situation. It may also be useful at the next evaluation period to ask the supervisor to put in the written portion, if there is one, that there have been no further concerns in the area where a warning was given. This provides both the organization and the employee with worthwhile documentation. I hope this has been of assistance. Best wishes!

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.