What is acceptable employee conduct in the workplace?

Promote positive staff behaviour in your office

First published on Thursday, Jun 04, 2020

Last updated on Friday, Jun 07, 2024

Around 40% of UK employees have a work conflict each year — most often with their line manager (CIPD 2015).

“Upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all.”
— Alexander the Great

Since a little conflict is inevitable, how you manage employee conduct can have the biggest impact on your organisation. So it’s essential you create an environment that encourages good performance while dealing with grievance and misconduct effectively.

Promoting good employee conduct

If you’re to expect good conduct from them, employees need to clearly understand those expectations. The answer is often a code of conduct, which will spell out:

  • Standards of performance and workplace conduct, promoting a culture of respect and good performance.
  • Grievance and disciplinary procedures, which provide clear structures for dealing with problems.

Standardised procedures make sure everyone is treated fairly and equally in similar circumstances.

Reducing the need for tribunals

Another goal for your code of conduct might be to resolve issues quickly and in-house, thereby reducing the need for a costly tribunal process.

Effective procedures comply with the Acas Code of Practice and the law. In the event an issue does go to tribunal, the procedure you’ve followed can demonstrate you’ve acted lawfully.

Managing discipline and grievances

Disciplinary and grievance issues happen in every workplace. It’s common to face problems such as:

  • Differences in personality and work styles: they’re the most common contributors to workplace conflict.
  • Lack of respect between employees: it’s the most common discipline-related behaviour in UK workplaces. Bullying, refusal to co-operate and shouting are also widely reported.
  • Falls in motivation and commitment: workplace conflict commonly causes these damaging results. (Source: CIPD 2015)

Disciplinary procedures

To manage these issues, your disciplinary process might cover two areas: employee performance and general workplace conduct.

Conduct issues might include lateness, refusal to cooperate, misuse of IT or bullying. It might even include violent behaviour and other crimes. Your misconduct disciplinary procedure should usually include:

  • Clear communication. You’ll (1) inform the employee by letter that they’re being disciplined, (2) meet with them to discuss the issue and (3) give them right of appeal where appropriate.
  • A full, fair investigation into the facts, to decide if further action is needed.
  • Detailed record-keeping. Should the issue go to tribunal, you’ll need to demonstrate that you followed a fair and lawful procedure.
  • Disciplinary interviews. Staff conducting interviews should be fully trained in compliance with the law and the Acas Code.

When dealing with performance issues, you must try to identify the reason and offer support — such as training — before beginning formal proceedings.

Grievance procedures

Many organisations try to resolve grievances informally through discussion before invoking a formal procedure. If this fails, make sure your formal grievance procedure follows the Acas Code and is fully communicated to employees.

In both conduct and grievance issues, employees have the right to be accompanied at meetings by a colleague or trade union rep.

More on employee conduct

BrightBase is home to detailed compliance guides, essential resources and opinion from leading HR professionals. Find answers to your specific employee conduct questions below.

You may also wish to make use of BrightHR's HR software system to help you record and manage instances of employee conduct.

Alan Price

CEO, BrightHR and Group Chief Operating Officer

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