Verbal vs Written Warnings

Published 2nd April 2024

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Maintaining workplace standards is essential for business owners to ensure smooth operations and uphold company goals. Part of this responsibility includes addressing conduct issues. It also entails managing employee performance through disciplinary actions when necessary. In this blog post, we’ll explore the significance of verbal and written warnings in the context of performance management and legal compliance. 

Understanding the details of disciplinary actions, including HR procedures and legal requirements, is crucial for mitigating risks. For example, unfair dismissal claims or employment tribunal proceedings. Effective communication between managers and employees is key in conveying expectations. It is also important for addressing performance issues and fostering employee engagement. 

By implementing a fair and transparent performance management system, businesses can improve employee performance. They can also create a positive work environment conducive to achieving company objectives.

The Role of Verbal and Written Warnings 

Verbal and written warnings play a big role in maintaining workplace standards and addressing conduct issues. A verbal warning is a formal conversation between an employer and an employee. It highlights concerns about their behaviour or performance. It serves as an initial alert to the employee that their conduct needs improvement. 

On the other hand, a written warning is a documented formal notice given to an employee. It outlines specific performance or behaviour issues and the consequences of continued non-compliance. Written warnings provide clarity and accountability. They ensure that both parties understand the expectations and consequences. 

The purpose of both types of warnings is to communicate expectations. They also provide opportunities for improvement. They protect the employer’s interests in case of further disciplinary actions. Effective communication and documentation of warnings are essential for legal compliance and risk management in the workplace.

When to Issue Verbal Warnings 

Verbal warnings are typically issued when an employee’s conduct or performance falls below expectations but do not warrant immediate termination or written documentation. Criteria for issuing verbal warnings include instances of minor misconduct, such as tardiness, absenteeism, or breaches of company policies. 

For example, if an employee consistently arrives late for work without a valid reason, a verbal warning may be appropriate to address the issue and reinforce punctuality expectations.

Verbal warnings are also used to address performance issues, such as incomplete tasks or errors in work quality. They provide an opportunity for improvement before more severe disciplinary action is necessary. Additionally, verbal warnings serve as a tool for employee training and engagement. They help managers communicate expectations and offer guidance on how to meet them. 

By addressing issues early through verbal warnings, employers can show their commitment to performance management and legal regulations while promoting a positive work environment conducive to achieving company goals.

Transitioning to Written Warnings 

Transitioning to written warnings occurs when an employee’s conduct or performance issues persist despite prior verbal warnings. It also happens when the severity of the issue warrants formal documentation. According to UK Government guidelines on disciplinary procedures, written warnings are appropriate for more serious or repeated instances of misconduct or performance issues. 

These may include violations of company policies or breaches of the code of conduct. Examples also include failure to meet performance targets despite prior coaching or feedback. 

Written warnings provide a formal record of the employer’s concerns and expectations. They ensure transparency and accountability for both parties. They also serve as a legal safeguard. They show that fair and reasonable steps were taken to address the issue before any further disciplinary action. 

By adhering to the legal framework outlined in employment law and HR procedures, employers can reduce risks such as claims of unfair dismissal or employment tribunal proceedings. Transitioning to written warnings is crucial. It helps manage employee conduct and performance. It ensures legal compliance. It also fosters a productive work environment.

Drafting Effective Written Warnings 

Drafting effective written warnings requires careful consideration and adherence to HR best practices. HR departments play a crucial role in managing warning processes. They do this by ensuring clarity, fairness, and consistency in documentation. This includes outlining the employee’s misconduct or performance issues. It also entails specifying expected improvements and detailing consequences for non-compliance. 

Kingfisher Professional Services assists businesses by providing tailored support in HR processes. Our approach involves understanding the unique needs of each client and ensuring that warning processes align with legal requirements and company policies. 

We offer expert guidance on communication strategies, documentation standards, and legal compliance. We help businesses navigate disciplinary procedures with confidence. By partnering with Kingfisher, businesses can streamline their HR processes.

The Role of HR in Warning Procedures 

The role of HR in warning procedures is important in ensuring fair and consistent disciplinary actions. HR departments are responsible for overseeing the entire warning process. This includes initial investigation right through to final resolution. They play a crucial role in managing warning processes. They provide guidance to managers, ensuring compliance with company policies and employment law. They also maintain accurate documentation.

At Kingfisher Professional Services, our team of accredited HR advisors is here to offer support. We provide legal guidance following the ACAS code. We assess grievances and offer recommendations to your organisation. This enables you to make well-informed decisions about outcomes and necessary steps moving forward.

Managing Complex Situations 

Distinguishing Between Conduct and Performance Issues 

Distinguishing between conduct and performance issues is crucial for effective management and resolution in the workplace. Conduct issues typically revolve around behaviour or actions that violate company policies. They can also include codes of conduct or ethical standards. 

These may include instances of misconduct, such as insubordination, harassment, or dishonesty. On the other hand, performance issues relate to an employee’s ability to meet job-related expectations or standards. Performance issues can be further categorised into capability (“can’t do”) and conduct (“won’t do”) issues.

Capability issues arise when an employee lacks the necessary skills, knowledge, or resources to perform their job duties. In contrast, conduct issues stem from a lack of willingness or motivation to perform, despite possessing the skills and abilities. Distinguishing between capability and conduct issues is essential for implementing appropriate interventions and disciplinary actions. 

By identifying the root cause of employee performance issues, employers can provide targeted support and training. They can also provide corrective measures to address underlying issues and promote improvement when needed. This proactive approach helps maintain productivity, morale, and a positive work environment.

Handling Repeat Offenses and Escalation 

Handling repeat offences and escalation in the workplace requires a strategic and proactive approach. This is to maintain productivity and uphold organisational standards. When an employee repeatedly violates policies, it is essential to address the issue promptly. This is important to prevent further disruption and potential legal consequences. The following steps can be taken:

  1. Documentation: Keep detailed records of each instance of policy violation. Include dates, times, witnesses, and any relevant evidence.
  2. Counselling: Meet with the employee to discuss the repeated offences. Communicate the expectations. Offer support or resources to help them improve their behaviour.
  3. Progressive discipline: Implement a progressive disciplinary approach, starting with verbal warnings. Follow with a written warning. Escalating to more severe consequences if the behaviour persists.
  4. Training and support: Offer extra training or support to address any underlying issues contributing to the repeated offences. This can include communication skills, time management, or conflict resolution.
  5. Review and reassessment: Regularly review the employee’s progress and reassess the effectiveness of interventions. If the behaviour continues despite corrective measures, consider further disciplinary action. This can even include termination of employment in severe cases.

By following these steps and addressing repeat offences promptly and consistently, employers can maintain a positive work environment. They can also uphold organisational standards, and minimise the risk of legal disputes.

Fair Dismissal Considerations 

Fair dismissal considerations are critical for maintaining fairness and legal compliance in the workplace. This is especially important in the context of warnings. When considering dismissal following warnings, employers must adhere to fair dismissal procedures outlined in employment law. This includes:

  1. Due process: Ensure that the disciplinary process is fair, transparent, and conducted according to company policies and legal requirements. Provide the employee with adequate notice of the allegations against them. Allow an opportunity to respond, and an impartial investigation.
  2. Consistency: Treat all employees consistently and fairly. Apply disciplinary procedures equally across the organisation. Avoid discrimination or bias in the decision-making process.
  3. Proportionality: Dismissal should be proportionate to the offence committed. Consider the severity of the misconduct, the employee’s disciplinary record, mitigating factors, and any efforts made to address the behaviour.
  4. Review and appeal: Provide employees with the right to appeal against the decision to dismiss. Allow them an opportunity to present their case and challenge the decision through an impartial appeals process.

Kingfisher’s Expertise in Disciplinary Actions 

We provide invaluable support offering expert guidance to resolve conflicts and issues with timely advice. As part of our service offering, our disciplinary help is seamlessly integrated into a solution-oriented commercial package. Our team guides you through the intricacies of Employment Law. We ensure that you are equipped with the knowledge and resources needed. 

This is to address disciplinary matters effectively. Whether it is guiding or handling employee disputes, we are committed to empowering your organisation. We ensure legal compliance with disciplinary procedures. We provide the tools and strategies necessary to promote a harmonious workplace environment. This reduces potential risks.


In conclusion, verbal and written warnings play a crucial role in maintaining workplace standards and fostering a respectful environment. Verbal warnings serve as initial interventions to address minor issues. Written warnings formalise disciplinary actions for more serious misconduct. It is essential to differentiate between conduct and performance issues. It is also important to address capability (“can’t do”) and conduct (“won’t do”) matters.

Proper disciplinary actions, including the issuance of warnings, contribute to a culture of accountability and fairness within the organisation. By adhering to legal standards and ethical considerations, businesses can mitigate risks associated with unfair dismissal claims and maintain employee trust and engagement.

At Kingfisher, we understand the challenges of HR and legal compliance. Our expert team provides tailored guidance and support throughout the disciplinary process, ensuring that businesses manage challenges with confidence and integrity. We encourage businesses to seek professional advice when addressing disciplinary matters, emphasising the importance of proactive risk management and compliance with employment laws. With our assistance, businesses can effectively manage disciplinary issues while upholding legal standards and promoting a positive workplace culture.

If you want to learn more about our services, contact us today.


What is the purpose of verbal warnings in the workplace?

Verbal warnings serve as initial alerts to employees regarding conduct or performance issues. They provide an opportunity for improvement and set clear expectations for future behaviour.

When should written warnings be issued?

Written warnings are appropriate for more serious or repeated instances of misconduct or performance issues. They formalise disciplinary actions and ensure transparency and accountability.

How can employers ensure fairness in disciplinary procedures?

Employers should adhere to fair dismissal procedures outlined in employment law. This includes providing due process, maintaining consistency, and allowing employees the right to appeal decisions.

What role does HR play in warning procedures?

HR departments are responsible for overseeing warning processes and providing guidance to managers. They also ensure compliance with company policies and employment law whilst maintaining accurate documentation.

Why is it important for businesses to seek professional advice for disciplinary matters?

Professional advice ensures that businesses manage disciplinary processes with confidence, integrity, and legal compliance. It reduces risks associated with unfair dismissal claims and promotes a positive workplace culture.

Explore Our Comprehensive Business Services

Kingfisher Professional Services offers a wide range of expert solutions in HR, Employment Law, Health & Safety, and Training. Whether you need consultancy, bespoke advice, or comprehensive training, our team is dedicated to helping your business stay compliant and thrive. Visit our services page to learn more about how we can support your business needs.