Should Verbal Warnings Be Put In Writing?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about warning follow up:

Does a verbal warning need to be followed up with written confirmation and minutes of the meeting?

Signed, Doing It The Right Way

Dear Doing It The Right Way:

If your organization doesn’t have an established procedure, the one you described works well, with one change I would suggest. A verbal warning is the first step in a progressive series and lets the employee know the thing they did is a serious violation that must not happen again–and if it does, stronger disciplinary action will definitely be taken. The verbal warning goes past a casual request or brief counseling comment

Most employees describe a verbal warning as being “written up” because many organizations issue a written confirmation. Documenting what happened is necessary to ensure there is a record of the first step in the progression. It also is a strong reminder to the employee.Including minutes of the meeting is not a requirement in most organizations, probably because the meeting to issue a verbal warning is usually brief and to the point. The interview in which the employee presents his or her viewpoint or mitigation is usually done before the verbal warning is decided upon.

You may want to provide an overview of the meeting if there was some aspect of it that was significant. That would mean a second memo would have to be sent about the meeting, since the written documentation is usually issued at the meeting, when the employee can sign it to verify receipt.The bottom line is that there is no law or regulation about how disciplinary procedures are handled (apart from organizational contracts and procedures.) But, the prevailing way of handling them is similar to what you suggested.I prefer to give the employee a hard copy memo right after I officially give the verbal warning. (Which is why I don’t include minutes of the meeting.)

Delaying the written confirmation tends to bring the whole thing up again and often stirs up the feeling that the process will never end and the employee will never be allowed to recover. That’s an exaggeration usually, but it’s a feeling many have when they are already upset.The confirmation memo has a statement that says the date the warning was given and what it was about, in brief. I usually say something to explain it, such as, “Jim, we document the fact that you’ve received a verbal warning.

This memo is the documentation, but it isn’t a written warning, it’s a record for the file. I’ve signed it to verify that I gave you a warning. There’s a space for you to sign to verify that this isn’t being placed in your file without you being aware of the warning. So, if you’ll sign this verification we can finish the meeting and move forward from here.”Above the signature spot, if I am not using an organizational form, I put, “Signature to verify receipt.” If the employee won’t sign because he doesn’t agree, I don’t argue, I just write, “Declined to sign” (I don’t write “Refused to sign”, because that is an emotion-laden statement that isn’t needed.) I once wrote, “Declined to sign” and asked the employee to sign that he had declined, and he WOULD do that! I have sometimes been successful at asking employees who would not sign, to at least initial it–and in several cases they did so.I hope this answers your question effectively. 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.