Can I just give them a verbal warning? 

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Part of being a good employer means addressing minor issues before they become major ones. Performance issues, lateness, policy breaches or off-colour jokes in the tearoom are all things we would like to deal with but are not serious enough to dismiss an employee.

However, if you don’t sort these things out early, or only take informal steps, the issue can upset other staff and create complaints of a “toxic workplace” which is a much larger problem.

The most straightforward solution is a warning. A good warning addresses the specific behaviour you want to deal with, sets clear standards you expect to see, lays out the potential consequences if there is a repeat performance, and has an expiry date.

Most importantly, a warning (verbal, written or otherwise) can’t just be handed out on the spot like a speeding ticket. The boss can’t just give a formal warning without following a fair process first. If they do, the employee will have a strong personal grievance claim and the business may be the one “paying the ticket” for the employee’s bad behaviour.

While employers are allowed to discuss issues with staff informally, if they do so they can’t later rely on those conversations if the behaviour continues.

A fair process in these situations is straightforward and is the same as any other employment process which could impact someone’s employment. Fundamentally, it involves gathering information on the behaviour and giving the employee time to look at it, taking time to genuinely talk to the employee about what happened and the proposed warning, and documenting that process and the outcome. For the most part, it’s not a good idea to pull an employee into a ‘surprise meeting’ without letting them know what it’s for, especially if you’re looking at an issue that could require some kind of disciplinary action later.

A good process can take from a few days to a week. While that might seem like a lot for a simple warning, it is also a lot shorter and cheaper than responding to a personal grievance for a wrongfully issued warning.

How can we help?

WRMK Lawyers has Northland’s largest team of employment law specialists. We help our clients with all their employment processes.  If you need help or guidance, please give one of us a call or contact your usual WRMK lawyer for advice.

WRMK Lawyers takes all reasonable care to make sure that the information in this article is up-to-date and accurate at today’s date. It is necessarily general information and not intended as legal advice to be relied upon.

Our thanks to Simon Davies-Colley for writing this article.

Every effort has been made to ensure accuracy in this article. However, the items are necessarily generalised and readers are urged to seek specific advice on particular matters and not rely solely on this text.


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