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Verbal & Written Warnings – Without Fear

Warnings are an important part of any progressive discipline system. When delivering warnings, remember the two vital elements of any warning, the six tips for effective warnings and the three musts for managing behavior.

Vital Elements
Every warning, “verbal” or “written” should contain two vital elements. (1) A description of what the employee is doing wrong. (2) A statement of the consequences the employee can expect if the behavior continues.

Effective Warnings
1. Remember the two vital elements discussed above each and every time employees are warned about performance or conduct. Warnings are the foundation upon which you may base more severe discipline later.

2. Always describe the specific conduct or behaviors that led to the warning, not your perception of the employee’s “attitude” or what you believe the employee may be “thinking.” See the comments below on Managing Behaviors - Not Attitude.

3. Give “verbal” warnings to an employee in person.

4. Always document verbal warnings in writing immediately after it is given. Make note of both elements of your warning and record what was said by you and the employee.

5. Prepare “written” warnings in advance and include both of the required elements.

6. Deliver written warnings in person and document what was said in writing immediately after the meeting.

Managing Behaviors - Not Attitude
Employers frequently ask us for assistance in dealing with problem employees. Many times, however, the employer has difficulties describing the behavior that causes the problem. Instead, they will describe their perceptions of the employee’s attitude.

Expressing employment decisions in terms of attitude can get you in trouble. If a judge, jury or a hearings officer arrives at a different perception of the employee’s attitude, you can be subject to liability in an unlawful termination or discrimination lawsuit.

1. Don’t: Don’t presume to know what is in someone else’s mind, even if you are sure that you know.

2. Don’t: Don’t make statements in writing or in discussions with problem employees, supervisors or other employees that comment on a problem employee’s attitude. Those statements can be used against you.

3. Do: Do make decisions based upon behavior. Make notes of the behavior that causes problems. For example, "Sam was at least 15 minutes late eight days this month." Not, "Sally doesn’t care enough about her job to arrive on time." Making employment decisions based upon specific conduct will allow a judge, jury or hearings officer to arrive at the same conclusion that you did if the action is ever challenged.

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