How to Handle Employee Misconduct

Employees meet in a conference room.

Employee misconduct can show up several ways in the workplace, from bias and bullying to confidentiality breaches and theft. When employees break the rules, your team can suffer from reduced productivity, low morale, and even legal issues.

In this article, we’ll examine:

  • What misconduct is and how to spot it.
  • Different types of misconduct.
  • How to develop a misconduct policy and plan of action.
  • What steps to take when misconduct happens.

This way, your employees will have a clear understanding of the behavior expected of them in the workplace and the ramifications for people who violate the policy. (It can be helpful to have an employment lawyer review your policy before you implement it.) Here’s what you need to know.

What Is Employee Misconduct?

Employee misconduct is any employee action that goes against company policy or behavior standards and can create a negative work environment. Roughly 75% of employees have witnessed misconduct, yet only 41% of violations are reported, according to Gartner. This is why having a clear code of conduct and ethics can help you and your team more easily spot and report violations that could otherwise go unnoticed.

Common Types of Misconduct

The most common types of misconduct include:

Gross Misconduct

Gross misconduct represents more serious violations. These employee infractions can result in termination and, in some cases, even legal ramifications. They include:

  1. Harassment: This unlawful behavior can include unwanted sexual advances or inappropriate comments based on someone’s sex, age, race, religion, or other factors listed in the protected class. Some examples include making sexual jokes, emailing or circulating insulting images and emails, and inappropriate touching.
  2. Discrimination: This occurs when employees are treated unfairly because they are in a protected class. People can be discriminated against during the hiring process and on the job, such as being unfairly passed over for a promotion or left out of high-profile assignments. Employers today are placing more emphasis on creating inclusive work environments for all employees.
  3. Theft: Theft occurs when employees take things that don’t belong to them. It highlights the importance of keeping an accurate inventory of company property, installing surveillance equipment, limiting access to susceptible areas, and having clear internal policies and procedures.
  4. Substance abuse: Substance abuse can include drugs, alcohol, and other addictive substances. Employees violate the substance abuse policy if they sell, buy, or use drugs and alcohol at work or are under the influence during the workday.
  5. Breach of confidentiality: This is when employees disclose confidential information about the company or employees. It can negatively affect your organization. Some examples include trade secrets, patent applications, and proprietary company data that can be damaging if it falls into the wrong hands.

General or Simple Misconduct

There are also types of employee misconduct that can be considered less egregious. For example:

  1. Lateness or absenteeism: These occur when an employee is constantly late or absent beyond a reasonable number of days and without prior approval. It can affect work and company performance, not to mention team morale.
  2. Poor quality work: This happens when employees consistently perform at a level that doesn’t match up with their ability or job expectations. People have bad days and different employees are capable of different work qualities, but when it happens consistently, further action might be needed.
  3. Insubordination: This occurs when employees refuse to complete tasks mandated by their managers. This failure to complete the requested work by difficult employees can be considered insubordination when it’s a flat-out refusal of direct, authorized demands.

It’s important to investigate and deal with misconduct appropriately based on the nature of the infraction. Now that you know which can be considered serious versus less serious, you can use this information to create your policy and plan of action.

Developing a Misconduct Policy and Action Plan

Business owners and leadership should have clear policies in place for addressing employee misconduct. This helps managers and HR know how to:

  • Recognize misconduct and identify who might need to be involved in the process.
  • Properly investigate infractions.
  • Proceed with the appropriate level of discipline.

When employees or managers spot misconduct, they will be more likely to report it if there are clear guidelines about the process. Here are some useful tips for drafting yours.

Identifying Who Might Need to Be Involved in the Process

Share the process for filing an employee misconduct report, such as alerting their manager or HR and providing a verbal or written statement. When employees report misconduct, they need to know whom to contact for specific violations. This will eliminate confusion and increase chances the misconduct will be reported.

Properly Investigating Infractions

Next, outline the procedure for investigating claims. You’ll want management or HR to:

  1. Gather information of the incident, such as the date, time, and circumstances. Also get a list of witnesses and their contact information.
  2. Interview employees involved separately and privately. Be sure to take meticulous notes and keep a record of all statements.
  3. Review relevant evidence or documentation, such as emails, performance reviews, previous disciplinary records, or other correspondence.

Once all the information is gathered and reviewed, your team can make their decisions about the next steps based on the results.

Proceeding With the Appropriate Discipline

Not all misconduct requires legal action or termination. It’s important to determine the appropriate level of response. Be sure your policy is clear about what actions require discipline and how to do it fairly and consistently for all employees.

For example, minor infractions might require warnings or corrective actions. Others might necessitate suspension, transfer, or firing. When in doubt, remember the aim shouldn’t be to punish the employee, but to rectify the situation and ensure other employees comply with your policy.

Promote a Positive Workplace Culture

Identifying employee misconduct and taking the proper measures can provide employees with a safe, productive, and professional work environment. Creating a positive work culture starts with making the right hires. Start today and access Monster’s pool of candidates and find your next great hire.

Legal Disclaimer:  This article is not intended as a substitute for professional legal advice. Always seek the advice of an attorney regarding any legal questions you may have.