Verbal warning documentation guide and template

Documenting a verbal warning may sound a bit counterintuitive. After all, they are meant to be verbal and are generally less formal than an official written warning or performance improvement plan. However, keeping a written record of verbal warnings is a necessary tool for compliance and communication.

Find out how to document a verbal warning below and what details need to be included. Plus, explore verbal warning templates to use for your verbal warning documentation.

What are Verbal Warnings?

Verbal warnings are a form of employee disciplinary that involves a verbal discussion regarding poor performance or behavior issues. Common reasons for giving a verbal warning include tardiness, absenteeism, and unsatisfactory performance.

A verbal warning typically involves an overview of a recent employee performance or conduct problem and a warning that it must be corrected moving forward. They are often the initial step in the disciplinary process before moving on to more formal actions like a write-up.

It is worth noting that there are different types of verbal warnings, and they may be documented differently. An informal verbal warning may be a quick, somewhat casual conversation between a manager and an employee. On the other hand, a formal verbal warning often occurs during a scheduled meeting or disciplinary hearing. A staff member from human resources is typically involved in formal warnings.

Why verbal warnings need to be documented

Having a record of any warnings or performance-related conversations is imperative in case the issue continues and leads to further action such as termination. For compliance purposes, you want a written record of every step you took in the progressive discipline process.

The documentation will also give the employee an overview of the conversation to reference later. Having that record to reflect back on is great, because employees often feel anxious or overwhelmed while receiving a warning and that can make it harder for them to focus on and retain everything you tell them. The document will also help them keep track of follow-up items.

Documentation is also helpful for communicating between multiple supervisors or human resources staff. Sometimes an employee reports to different supervisors, such as a department manager and assistant manager, or shift leads who work on different days or overlap shifts. Documenting verbal warnings and adding them to an employee’s file can keep everyone in the loop on whether an employee has already been warned about a specific behavior and what was discussed during that warning.

What to include when documenting a verbal warning

Verbal warning documentation doesn’t need to be too long, but it should be thorough. Here are the key facts to include when documenting a verbal warning.

The date that the warning was issued

For recordkeeping purposes, it’s necessary to record the date on which the verbal warning is given. There may be instances where a verbal warning is delivered in a quick unscheduled conversation or towards the end of the day and you may not have time to type up a formal follow-up or enter a note into the employee’s record within your HR platform.

As such, you should write the date that a verbal warning was given in your documentation rather than just relying on the date that a note was recorded within a software portal or that an email follow-up was sent. This ensures that your records are accurate and also that you stick to the correct timeframe that you gave the employee if there was a probationary period of follow-up timeline mentioned.

Examples of the performance or conduct concern

It’s important to provide a clear, concise explanation of what you are providing a warning for. Point to specific examples or data whenever possible, such as the dates and times of late clock-ins, specific comments from a negative customer survey, or the performance metric that the employee is underperforming on. Include this in the verbal warning and restate it in the documentation.

When documenting a verbal warning, keep in mind that the warning and its accompanying documentation should cover one specific topic related to the employee’s conduct. It may include multiple instances of tardiness or customer complaints, but managers shouldn’t list out a bunch of unrelated complaints that they have with an employee.

The employee’s response

Allow employees to speak during the verbal warning conversation or meeting. If an employee denies any of the conduct mentioned, provides an explanation for their behavior or underperformance, or requests mentoring or resources to support their improvement, document that.

Note that employees don’t have to agree with the allegations of misconduct for the warning to be given and documented. If you request for them to sign verbal warning documentation, you may include a disclaimer that their signature is simply a confirmation that they have received a copy of the document rather than an attestation to the claim made. Employers should have established a process for appealing disciplinary procedures like write-ups or formal verbal warnings that can be handled through human resources.

Next steps discussed and timeframe

Summarize any next steps that you discussed with the employee. Will they be getting any additional training or are there scheduled check-ins? Provide a brief overview of any next steps you discussed, even if the next steps are simply that the employee needs to comply with company policy to avoid added discipline.

Verbal warnings may also include a timeframe and improvement plan. If you’re giving a warning for unsatisfactory performance rather than an issue with the employee’s behavior (such as attitude or attendance issues), you’ll typically want to give them a timeline for improvement. In most cases, it will take time for employees to adequately ramp up productivity or improve their work quality so give them at least 30 days to make a change.

Types of verbal warning documentation

Here are the three main options for documenting verbal reprimands.

Verbal warning letters

Verbal warning letters are a common option for verbal warning documentation. The letter typically includes a brief summary of the issue that was discussed and the steps that need to be taken to avoid further disciplinary action. The employee, manager, and any HR professionals present for the meeting typically sign this letter.

One thing to make clear when delivering a verbal warning letter is that the letter just acts as a summary of the verbal warning. Employees will often see a warning letter and understandably assume that it is a written warning as opposed to verbal warning documentation.

Follow-up emails

Sending an email follow-up can serve a similar purpose to a verbal warning letter, but they can come across as a bit more casual and are less likely to be confused with a written warning. You can follow a similar template and include the same information that you would in a verbal warning letter in the body of an email.

Personnel file notes

Some employers take a slightly less formal approach to verbal warning documentation by simply adding a note to the employee’s file rather than creating a formal written document. This route should only be taken for informal warnings that did not involve a disciplinary hearing.

That being said, it’s still a better idea to send some form of written follow-up to the employee after issuing a verbal warning. The documentation gives the employee a quick reference guide to everything that was discussed and any steps that they need to take. Having an employee sign the verbal warning documentation or confirm receipt of it is a best practice and leaves less room for later disputes. Then, you can add a copy of the email or letter into the employee’s file.

Verbal warning documentation template

Dear [Employee Name],

This letter serves as a formal summary of the discussion that took place on [date]. It is simply intended to summarize our discussion and is not to be taken as a written warning.

During our coversation, I warned you that your performance needs to improve in the following area(s):

[Summary of problem and examples included the verbal warning]

As mentioned, you are expected to take the following actions to correct this issue and avoid further disciplinary action:

  1. [Action item #1]

  2. [Action item #2]

Your performance in regards to [employee performance issue] will be monitored over the next [timeframe]. If improvement is not observed, further disciplinary measures may be taken.

Please let me know if you have any questions or need clarification regarding next steps.


Supervisor Name

Supervisor Signature

By signing below, you indicate that you have received a copy of this letter.

Employee Name

Employee Signature