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How to Give a Verbal Warning at Work

Some employees are keepers and others are not. Either way, a verbal warning can turn a good apple around or help a bad one out the door.


  • Step 1: Review written policies Review your company's written policies regarding what behavior is unacceptable and the established protocol for delivering the verbal warning. Make sure you have all the rules fresh in your head before talking to the employee.
  • TIP: Ask employees to review company policies and sign an acknowledgment when they are hired or whenever new policies are introduced. That way you have proof the employee knows the rules and expectations.
  • Step 2: Inform the employee Advise the employee of the nature of the meeting you are calling, which should be held in private. When employees know they are meeting to discuss their shortcomings they don't feel ambushed -- and they have the opportunity to collect their thoughts or refute incorrect claims.
  • TIP: Invite one witness to the private meeting, preferably the employee's direct supervisor or the department head. This protects you in case the employee makes false claims about what occurred at the meeting.
  • Step 3: Nail down the details Be specific about your concerns regarding the employee's work performance or behavior. For instance, instead of saying "Your tardiness is an issue," say "You've been at least 15 minutes late three times this month."
  • Step 4: Set a goal Give your employee clear directions for how to improve to avoid any further disciplinary actions. For example, say "You must be at your desk by 8 a.m. everyday unless you've made previous arrangements to take time off."
  • Step 5: Put it in their file Record the fact that you delivered a verbal warning and the date it was given. Give the employee a copy and place a copy in the employee's human resources file. Clearly state the nature of the misconduct and what the employee must do to remedy the situation. Consider developing standard templates for issuing both verbal and written warnings that supervisors can use when the need arises.
  • Step 6: Keep an eye out Watch for signs of improvement from the employee, or even for hints of rebellion. That way you'll be ready to deliver positive reinforcement for employees who've turned themselves around -- or take the next disciplinary step for those who haven't.
  • FACT: Evading a possible verbal warning from his supervisor for becoming aggressive with a passenger, JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater dramatically quit his job by exiting through the plane's emergency chute in August 2010.

You Will Need

  • Company handbook
  • Meeting time
  • Witness
  • Documentation of the warning

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