How should you define misconduct in your workplace?

A guideline to establishing good working practices.

First published on Thursday, Jun 04, 2020

Last updated on Thursday, Sep 22, 2022

Occasionally, your employees might engage in behaviour that goes against your business procedures.

You can make it clear what you expect from employees by explaining what you consider good behaviour in your employment contracts and staff handbook.

In these documents, you should make it clear to you employees the behaviours you list aren’t definitive. But there are consequences if they breach you rules.

But it’s an unfortunate inevitability that, sooner or later, an employee may break your rules.

So, what can you do if this happens? Let’s take a look.

Gross and ordinary misconduct

First off, what’s the difference between misconduct and gross (serious) misconduct?

Well, as it’s the focus of this article—what does misconduct mean? It’s where something occurs that weakens an employee-employer relationship. But it’s not enough to warrant a dismissal.

But treat it as serious enough to potentially warrant a dismissal.

In comparison, there’s gross misconduct. This is where a serious breach of your employment procedures can lead to a summary dismissal.

What’s misconduct at work?

Is there a misconduct meaning? Well, if you want to define misconduct the legal viewpoint is something that contravenes your rules and regulations.

As such, your business such identify what you consider to be inappropriate behaviour or what you can consider minor misconduct (as gross misconduct is much more serious).

Employee conduct is, of course, an essential part of your daily operations. Staff members need to arrive on time, follow your dress code, and respect your guidelines.

But, this doesn’t always go according to plan.

It can be a deliberate act, which is important to remember should you face employee behaviour you find unacceptable.

As a general rule, you can consider misconduct as employee behaviour you think is unacceptable.

But a misconduct definition is more complex due to the nature of what’s involved. How do you define a varying range of potentially dangerous incidents?

Let’s take a closer look.

What is considered misconduct at work?

It’s a common question—what is employee misconduct?

It’s typically behaviour that falls under the likes of inefficiency, bad conduct, and poor performance.

Here’s a list of misconduct examples:

  • Damage to your property.
  • Becoming hostile to other colleagues.
  • Theft or fraud.

You should also keep in mind types of behaviour that aren’t misconduct. Such as clumsiness and arguments (between you and your employee, or staff with each other).

Although not exactly what you want your staff members to be doing, it’s not serious enough to warrant a major breach of employment contract.

How to handle misconduct

With the above points in mind, how should you go about ensuring that your staff are properly disciplined?

It can be a very stressful situation for your business, with managers and employees placed under a lot of strain. So it’s important to approach an incident carefully.

Generally, your disciplinary rules should cover the following:

  • Absenteeism/presenteeism.
  • Health & safety.
  • Correct use of computers and the internet.

If there is a breach to your procedures, then there’s no legal structure for carrying out an investigation or disciplinary meeting.

Acas’s Code of Practice can be of help understanding this. While you don’t have to follow their recommendations, remember that tribunals take it into account when reviewing relevant cases.

Employees do have a statutory right for accompaniment—this can be with either a colleague or a trade union official.

Just remember you can clear many misconduct issues up with an informal talk, or a series of verbal/written warnings before any decisive action is taken.

However, in the event of a serious breach you should follow formal action such as a thorough investigation. You can suspend your staff member during this time if necessary.

Need some extra help?

Need further assistance with any misconduct issues at work? You can get in touch with us today for immediate help: 0800 783 2806.

Frequently Asked Questions about Misconduct

Our clients ask a lot of questions about misconduct, so we’ve answered some of the most common ones below.

Not found an answer to your question? Bright Lightning answers thousands of employment questions in seconds.

What is the difference between serious misconduct and gross misconduct?

Gross misconduct is a serious enough reason to sack an employee on the first offence.

A serious misconduct is more likely to involve giving an employee a second chance. Serious misconduct examples may include:

  • Lateness
  • Poor standards of work
  • Misconduct of computer email, equipment and internet

Gross misconduct examples may include:

  • Theft
  • Fraud
  • Violence

Make sure you know whether the behaviour of an employee should be classed as gross misconduct or not.

What behaviours are considered criteria for a hostile work environment?

A group of people must be discriminated against by an employee, to create a hostile work environment. Examples of these groups could be:

  • Race
  • Colour
  • Religion
  • Gender
  • Pregnancy
  • Age
  • Disability

When the behaviour becomes severe enough, it can become a hostile work environment. This could also be deemed intimidating or abusive.

What are Sackable Offences at work?

Sackable Offences at work may include:

  • Physical violence or threats at work
  • Discrimination or harassment
  • Possession of drugs
  • Theft, fraud or dishonesty at work

A sackable offence can depend on the context that it takes place.

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