Verbal Warning

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about warnings: Is that legal to make me feel as if I can’t go to higher bosses when I can’t get a solution?

I was given a verbal warning because my boss said I reacted in a way that was offensive to her and disrespectful. I was in a meeting with her and felt that was inappropriate so I said that the conversation was over with and left the room. I went back to my desk and shot off an email regarding the meeting to my VP & HR contacts.

Three work days later I get this verbal warning so called. However, I didn’t sign anything acknowledging this warning. Should they give me something to sign? If this was a scare tactic is that legal to make me feel as if I can’t go to higher bosses when I can’t get a solution?

Signed, Warned

Dear Warned:

Up front please know that our site doesn’t provide legal advice. If you want that there are several online sources to which you might send your question. I see your question as more one of what was and is wise in boss/bossed communication. From your brief description, I read that you thought your boss’ behavior was “inappropriate” to you and you fired off a complaint to your Vice President and Human Resources.

Your boss warned you that your behavior at a meeting was “offensive and disrespectful” and now you ask is it legal to have a warning three days later and should you be given something to sign?

1. Protocol regarding receipt of a warning is something about which Human Resources can inform you. Policies and procedures vary, but a signature merely is to acknowledge that you have received the warning. Signing a warning does not mean you agree with it. It is up to you if you want to submit a rebuttal to the warning to be included in your file.

2. Was firing off a complaint to your VP and HR the most effective way to confront and reconcile with your boss? Probably not. Wouldn’t it have been better in a time-out session to briefly clarify what you felt was “inappropriate” and for you to apologize to say the conversation is over and to leave the room? Didn’t such behavior come across both in verbal and non-verbal language as angrily saying “Shut your mouth!”?

3. Bypassing a boss to complain up the ladder is something that should be rare and far between. Why? Because going above makes the bossed look worse than the boss. Complaining as you did no doubt struck the VP, HR and your boss as “tattling”. So only if and when a boss has a pattern of abuse or incompetence should one go over his/her head. Moreover, before shooting a complaint about a boss or coworker to someone above wouldn’t it be wiser to inform the target of a complaint that you were going to do so and to invite them to go with you; say to a VP or HR?

4. Is it not past time to talk about how you and your boss talk to and about each other? This could entail each of you saying how you do and don’t like to be talked to and about. A way to think about this is making explicit do and don’t communication rules. For example, probably one such don’t rule would be: Don’t say a conversation is over and walk away.” And a do rule might be: Do take a few minutes each day to get assignments straight and that complex assignments should be both oral and written.

Also opportunity should be allowed for what, when, why and how questions and feedback. I predict that you will “fight” against my response to your question just as you did to your boss. From a distance I can’t know the history or context of what occurred; therefore, my advice might not apply and you are free to reject it. But even if you do, is it not time to let the past be past and to do what is reasonable to make your boss look good? Isn’t it wise not to gossip or allow this incident to rumble over and over again in your head and to sour your disposition? Isn’t it better for you in your current job and career to come across constructively rather than as at war with your boss?

Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS, and that applies working with coworkers and boss.

William Gorden