Kaylyn McKenna

Employee discipline is often stressful for both supervisors and employees, but it’s often a necessary part of employee development and performance management. The first step in the disciplinary process is typically a verbal warning.

Verbal warnings provide an opportunity to nip issues in the bud early on before they necessitate more formal corrective action like write-ups. They typically involve a conversation between the supervisor and employee discussing the performance or behavior issue at hand. If you’re a supervisor, it can be a bit tricky to know exactly what to say to get your point across and touch on all the key pieces of information required.

To help make your verbal warning process run a bit more smoothly, we’ve listed out what you need to include in a verbal warning and some verbal warning templates to use as a script. Find out how to give a verbal warning the right way below.

What to Include in a Verbal Warning

Here are the core components to include while giving a verbal warning.

A description of the behavior or performance issue

Be as clear and detailed as possible when describing the behavior or problem that has prompted the verbal warning. Cite specific dates and examples, including numerical data when possible. This will make it harder for the employee to deny any wrongdoing or minimize the problem.

However, you should be sure to remain focused on one specific issue. A verbal warning is not the time to air all of your grievances with an employee. It should be focused on one specific issue such as attendance, insubordination, poor performance, or policy infractions.

An explanation of why the behavior is problematic

Take the time to explain why the employee’s actions are harmful or unacceptable. This may include explaining what company policy is being violated and how the issue is impacting the workplace.

It’s helpful to focus on how the behavior impacts others, when applicable. Employees often care about their team, but they may not always realize that their actions are negatively impacting their coworkers. With issues such as low productivity, absenteeism, or tardiness, explain how the employee’s actions are causing added stress for peers who are having to pick up the slack and take on added duties or workloads.

What is expected of the employee going forward

Tell employees what you want from them. This may be as simple as ongoing adherence to a company policy, such as arriving on time daily or meeting dress code expectations for every in-person work day going forward.

In other instances, there may be a specific performance metric that employees may be expected to meet. This may include a sales quota, customer satisfaction rating, or productivity goal.

Improvement timeline and planned follow-up

If you’re setting a time period or deadline for improvement, let the employee know. Sometimes this is used as an informal probationary period. For example, an employee receiving a warning for excessive absenteeism may have a time period where their attendance will be more strictly monitored and unexcused absences must be limited.

Managers can also include any other follow-up items, such as weekly check-ins, additional training, or other activities that will occur to help the employee improve their conduct or performance. Finally, explain that additional steps or discipline may occur if the employee does not improve or if additional policy violations occur.

Some words of encouragement

Your verbal warning needs to be firm, but that doesn’t mean that it needs to be wholly negative. Try to slip in some words of encouragement or support somewhere in your message. This may be an acknowledgment that you do appreciate the work that the employee does. You can also end the warning on a positive, encouraging note by saying that you believe in their ability to meet their performance goal and that you’re here to help them along the journey.

Sample verbal warning templates

Verbal warnings can be a bit more informal than written warnings, so managers should feel free to adjust their approach and wording to fit their communication style, the company’s culture, and the intended audience (aka the employee receiving the warning). However, it can be a bit intimidating to go into a verbal warning meeting without a clear script, especially if you’re a new manager or simply haven’t had to give a verbal warning before.

Feel free to use the below verbal warning templates as a jumping off point and customize them to fit the specific incident(s) at hand.

Verbal warning for tardiness sample script

Hi [Employee Name],

I noticed that you arrived 22 minutes late for work yesterday. Your expected start time is [scheduled time] and we count on you to show up on time and ready to work. Over the last [time period], you’ve been tardy [number] of times, and it’s caused disruptions in our morning operations.

On [number] of these occasions, you did not call or text to let me or another supervisor know that you would be late. In [company name]’s attendance policy, it states that you must reach out to your supervisor if you anticipate that you will arrive late.

I really appreciate all of the hard work that you do here, but it’s important that you start showing up on time each day. I expect that you will arrive by your designated start time every day and will proactively reach out to me if you are running late due to something outside of your control.

Continued tardiness and failure to follow the established attendance protocols may result in further disciplinary action. We will reevaluate this issue in 30 days and discuss additional measures if your attendance has not improved.

Verbal warning for unsatisfactory job performance

Hello [Employee Name],

You have not been meeting performance expectations over the past [time period], and it is negatively impacting the business. You are expected to [performance expectation or metric], over the past [number] months, your performance has failed to meet that expectation. This is a crucial part of your job responsibility, and failure to improve in this area could lead to disciplinary action, up to and including potential termination.

You’re an important member of our team and I truly do value your contributions. Let’s work together to find ways to help you improve your performance. I’m here to support you and am happy to provide any additional training or resources that you need to meet your performance goals.

Let’s meet weekly over the next 60 days to check in and work on meeting your performance targets. Then, we can reassess the situation and decide if further disciplinary or support measures are needed.

What is a verbal warning letter?

As the name suggests, verbal warnings are intended to be given verbally. However, many companies follow verbal reprimands up with a letter or email message summarizing the key points discussed during the verbal warning meeting or conversation.

This acts as a way to document the employee warning in the staff member’s personnel file. It’s also a helpful document for the employee to refer back to if they need to refresh their memory on anything that was discussed.

Since a verbal warning is typically the first step in the disciplinary process and may lead to additional measures, up to and including termination of employment, it’s essential that supervisors and human resources staff keep clear records of such interactions. See below for a template to use for a verbal warning follow-up letter.

Verbal warning letter template

Employee Name
Job Title
Company Name

Dear [Employee Name],

This letter serves as a summary of our meeting on [date] at [time and/or location]. It is meant to reaffirm the contents of our discussion, rather than to act as a formal written warning.

During our discussion, I advised you that your performance needs to improve in the following area:

  1. [Summary of problem and key discussion points from the verbal warning]

We established that the following actions must be taken to correct this issue and avoid further disciplinary action:

  1. [Action item 1]

  2. [Action item 2]

As discussed, a follow-up meeting will be scheduled for [number] days. At this time, I expect to see an improvement in your [employee performance issue].

Please let me know if you have any questions or if there is anything I can do to help support you.


Supervisor Name
Supervisor’s Signature

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

Employee Name
Employee’s Signature