Verbal Warnings

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about warning time limit:

Does a verbal warning have a time limit?

Signed, How Long?

Dear How Long?:

There are many sites that speak to your question. One excellent article is titled Verbal Warnings by Sharon Anne Waldrop. She states that “The purpose of a verbal warning or verbal counseling is to give someone another chance.” And she suggests that the time limit should be consistent: “When someone is given a verbal warning, the meaning is that further occurrences may result in employment termination. This doesn’t necessarily mean that if it happens one more time the employment will end, but it can, depending on the seriousness of the incident and what you state in the warning.”

This article also recommends that “A verbal warning is usually documented in the personnel file in the form of a memo. The manager who issues it signs or initials the document and gives a copy to the employee. Set a policy of how long a verbal warning is active and if it can ever be removed from the file.” Waldrop concludes her advice with: “You can release someone from employment without giving a warning. There is no rule that you have to give a second or third chance, but doing so will help keep your wrongful termination claims at a minimum or nonexistent.”It will help reduce the number of unemployment insurance claims, too. Remember, your goal is to help people succeed in their position. It’s a good idea to give them the opportunity to improve and remain employed unless they’ve done something serious, like steal company property or assault another person. To show the seriousness of a warning or counseling, include language in the documentation that makes it clear that further instances may result in additional discipline up to and including employment termination. This will also back up the company if a decision is made to end the employment because the employee was given a warning of the possible consequence. If he chooses not to improve, he is the only one responsible for the outcome.”

I can’t improve on this other than to suggest that a policy should be set that warnings should be worked off with good behavior. A slate should be wiped clean after a given time, such as one year. Do check with Human Resources and/or Personnel Department to learn what is the policy in your workplace. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS, and that means saving face; and not working under a cloud.

William Gorden