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The right way to give warnings to company rule-breakers

If one of your staff members regularly breaks company rules, you'll probably be forced into taking disciplinary action. Issuing a verbal warning should be the first step you take, usually followed by a written warning if there is no improvement. But when are such warnings appropriate and what should they include?

Clare Boneham is a solicitor at Hammonds law firm. She talks to Tom Whitney about giving staff members written or verbal warnings.

When is it appropriate to issue a written or verbal warning?
Clare Boneham (CB): "A verbal warning is normally issued for a minor infraction of company rules. A written warning is normally issued for a more serious breach of conduct or when an employee’s performance or conduct has failed to improve since the issue was raised previously."

How has the October 2004 discipline and grievance legislation affected written and verbal warnings?
CB: "By law, all employers are required to have a discipline and grievance procedure in place. But statutory procedures don’t actually apply to verbal or written warnings.

"Statutory procedures must be used if an offence is grave enough for anything other than a warning or suspension on full pay to be considered. The decision as to whether an offence is serious enough to warrant more than just a warning is at the discretion of the employer."

Be clear

Quote�A verbal warning is a chance for employers to encourage staff members to improve their conduct.�End Quote

What should written and verbal warnings include?
CB "You need to make it clear why a written warning has been issued; whether an improvement in conduct is required; what the likely consequences are of failure to make an improvement; and how long the warning is likely remain on the employee's record.

"A verbal warning is a much more informal process. It is a chance for employers to encourage staff members to improve their conduct. Often a word in the ear is sufficient to remedy the situation."

Should a warning 'drop off' an employee's employment record?
CB: "It normally stays on their record for between six and 12 months - it's at the employer's discretion. You should follow up any warning with a review period, during which the individual receives appropriate support and their performance can be monitored."

Are employers obliged to inform their employees about their disciplinary rules?
CB: "You should include details in employment contracts or your staff handbooks. It is now a legal requirement that you give your employees a written statement of your disciplinary and grievance procedures."

What final piece of advice would you give employers?
CB: "You need to make it clear to employees what your disciplinary procedure is. The more they know about the disciplinary process, the less likely they are to commit an offence. If your staff feel they’ve been treated fairly, they are also much less likely to dispute any punishments — reducing the likelihood of tribunal claims."

Where next?

Daily Telegraph columnist Dr. James B Rieley knows what it takes to be a good manager. He says that if you ask the right questions, your employees will start to think for themselves. Read more...

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