8 Things to Know About Verbal and Written Warnings

Warning at Work

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AnnaMarie Houlis4.87k
Journalist & travel blogger
April 18, 2024 at 6:21AM UTC

So you got a verbal or written warning at work. Whatever you did (or swear you didn't do) to receive the warning can feel stressful. No one likes being called out at work for anything other than an accomplishment.

Here's everything you need to know about verbal and written warnings in the workplace — as well as how to respond to them.

1. Does an employer have to give a verbal warning before a written warning?

There are no written rules about how employers must give out warnings. While, typically, an employer will give you one verbal warning before giving you a written warning, they may dismiss the verbal warning if your misconduct is severe enough. They may also dismiss both the verbal and written warning and terminate you if the misconduct breaks the law or company policies. 

While most employers will give you a verbal warning before a written warning, they don't technically have to. A verbal warning is usually issued first to let employees know that if their work or behavior in the workplace does not improve or change in a certain period of time, the employer may choose to take further action against them. If the work or behavior does not improve or change, the employer may issue a written warning stating that the employee may be terminated if they do not make improvements or changes. Ultimately, it's up to the employer how they want to handle warnings in the workplace.

2. Does a verbal warning need to be documented?

A verbal warning should definitely be documented. Employers should keep the documentation of the verbal warning in their informal notes, and you as the employee should sign the documentation to indicate that you have received it. If there is no signed documentation of the verbal warning, it might as well never have happened.

3. Does an employee have to sign a write-up?

An employee will have to sign a write-up if they're given a warning at work, though it's not necessarily required of all employees (the employer can decide whether or not they find it necessary to have a signature). If the employee does not sign the write-up, then, again, there is no documentation of it happening, and there is no proof that they were ever given a warning. Therefore, if a warning is issued in the workplace, both the employee and the employer should sign it.

4. How do you respond to a verbal warning at work?

Responding to a verbal warning at work can feel awkward, but it's necessary. You want your employer to know that you understand the warning and are going to make an effort to improve your work or change your behavior. Learn more about how to respond to a warning below...

5. Can you be fired after a verbal warning?

If you receive a verbal warning at work, you should take it very seriously. This is a warning to let you know that, if you don't change what you're doing wrong, you can be fired. Your employer might give you a period of time to change your work or behavior or place you on a performance improvement plan and, if you don't meet their expectations, they can terminate you. 

6. What are the causes for warnings at work?

You might get a warning at work for a whole host of reasons. Here are just a few of the many reasons your employer may give you a verbal or a written warning...

  • You are regularly late to work.
  • You are caught regularly leaving work early without permission.
  • You are not meeting goals.
  • Your work continuously misses the mark.
  • You tend to need more supervision than others in the office.
  • You are turning in your work late often.
  • You are regularly missing deadlines.
  • You are not cooperating well with your team.
  • You are breaking the company dress code.
  • You are making others in the office uncomfortable with your words or actions.

7. How many written warnings can you receive before getting fired?

This depends on the employer. Typically, an employer will give you three warnings before they fire you. But, again, the employer may fire you after one warning or without any warning at all.

8. Can you refute a warning?

You can ask your employer to sit down with you to talk about the issue at hand. Of course, if you really don't feel as though you are in the wrong, you can have a conversation about that. You may even choose to write your employer a letter to discuss your points. 

How to Respond to a Warning

Always be calm, cool and collected when you respond to a warning. You should welcome the feedback, after all — it can help you improve. So if you receive a warning, ask your employer if they have some time to sit down to talk to you about it. Take this time to meet in person and discuss the issue at hand. This is an opportunity for you to ask questions and about specifics, which is especially important if the warning was vague. You may even ask your employer to help you come up with a list of goals for you. This way, you have expectations and can prove that you're improving or changing your ways.

It's also important to thank your employer for the feedback at the end. You may choose to do this in an email so that they know you're truly putting in the effort and recognize how important their input is. Send them a quick note letting them know that you appreciate their help, you apologize for the inconveniences you may have caused thus far, and you are looking forward to getting up to par with your work. 

At the end of the day, a warning is intimidating and not ideal to receive. While a warning can be a bad sign, it can also be an opportunity to improve and to be the best you can be in your new job. This could be your time to shine, so take the warning and learn a lesson from it.


This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.

AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist for a gamut of both online and print publications, as well as an adventure aficionado and travel blogger at HerReport.org. She covers all things women's empowerment — from navigating the workplace to navigating the world. She writes about everything from gender issues in the workforce to gender issues all across the globe.

What’s your no. 1 piece of advice for dealing with a warning at work? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!

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