Issuing a Verbal Warning to Manage Poor Behaviour in the Workplace

A skill for all front line supervisors and management

The verbal warning and managing poor employee behaviour when it occurs is an essential skill for all front-line supervision and management. It is a conversation these roles must be confident and capable of having when required. It happens more than senior management are aware: a supervisor or manager sees an employee has not followed a company procedure or a policy and they are hesitant or fail to issue the employee a formal verbal warning because they do not want to impact the employee’s performance, or not be liked or worse, trigger the employee’s resignation. The following week another supervisor sees the same employee doing the same thing and is not aware this is the second instance in two weeks; and she also does not give any warning at that time. The employee, knowing that they have been observed twice not followed procedure, feels what they have done is now “ok” and may rightly be surprised if they are pulled up on this behaviour. Supervisors and managers often find themselves in the difficult situation of continual “coaching” of employees to follow procedures, often in relation to safety and complying with documented PPE requirements or process procedures. The verbal warning step is the first step in the disciplinary procedures and the “Wake-up” call to the employee to do the required behaviour. The warning is to get the employee’s attention when normal discussions and requests fail to have the required compliance. Should I document a verbal warning? It is important that the verbal warning be documented, and the employee advised at the time the warning will be recorded and will only be relevant should the unwanted behaviour not stop. Supervisors are generally inherently poor at keeping diary notes of their own on such matters. Although a verbal warning has no real legal standing, it is usually the first step in most disciplinary procedures and therefore it is my recommendation that when one is issued, it should be recorded with the relevant manager and human resources personnel so that there is a record on file should it be required in the near future. Any follow up training required at the time of the warning is also important. This training may be as simple as the employee confirming they have been issued with the required policy and confirming they have read and understood the policy. That the warning is documented and the employee aware of this fact adds weight to the discipline step and it is more likely that the employee will sit up and take notice of the required improvement. It is essential that the warning be clear on what behaviour is not acceptable and what is required to improve going forward. Performance That Warrants a Verbal Warning Several types of behaviour might warrant the issuing of a verbal warning. Common ones involve excessive time spent on a known task or lack thereof: an employee is consistently late for work, leaves work early without notice, taking excessive breaks or doesn’t work the required number of hours. Another common reason an employee should be issued with a verbal warning is when they have displayed poor behaviour when interacting with co-workers or customers. HR and HSE Consulting Brisbane photo What steps follow the verbal warning? In a disciplinary process a verbal warning is generally followed by a first written warning and this step usually begins the documentation of a disciplinary action in the employee’s personnel file. Should the performance coaching event and any corrective action given or training provided not be documented and the employer then terminate the employee down the track for a repeated offence, the employer may fail a challenge by Fair Work that they had treated the employee fairly by not providing  an opportunity to improve. It is essential that the employer warn the employee that should further disciplinary action be required such disciplinary action may include termination should it be warranted. While the steps in a disciplinary action, including a verbal warning, may differ from company to company, the issuing of a verbal warning is often viewed by both parties as a negative event. The opportunity for both is to grasp the occasion and make it a positive. For the employee it is a learning step, to fill in a gap or misunderstanding of what is expected and what will not be accepted. For the employer, a lesson also that one employee was not aware of what was expected and that others may also not be aware and so to close this learning gap for all through training. To ignore unacceptable employee behaviour and not act is to condone the behaviour and this inaction is poor management behaviour, failing both the employee and the business. Do you need assistance in coaching your supervisors and managers to have hard conversations? Call us on 0437 334513, and we will help you.