How To Address Employee Misconduct In A Professional Manner
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[fa icon="calendar"] Nov 12, 2020 7:30:00 AM / by Michelle Nystrom

Michelle Nystrom

Addressing Employee Misconduct Professionally

Manager interviewing an employee in her officeUnless you are your sole employee, misconduct is bound to need addressing at some point during your business years. The more employees you supervise, the higher the chances. Professionally discussing matters of misconduct is essential to maintain the respect of your employees, and ultimately yourself. Let's take a look at how you can effectively deal with misconduct.


What Is Misconduct? 

Misconduct is any violation of the rules, whether written or implied. When an employee knows what you expect of them, and deliberately goes against those expectations by behaving in an unprofessional or confrontational manner, they are guilty of misconduct. Acts of misconduct can be divided into gross or general categories.

Gross Misconduct

Gross misconduct is any behavior that can reasonably cause immediate termination of employment. This act can be considered unreasonable by the majority of people, and the person exhibiting the behavior must do so willingly. In many cases, the action can be illegal. Many acts can fall into this category, including:

  • Damage to Property - This can be personal or company property. For example, someone may destroy the individual items on a coworkers desk because they are angry or punch a hole in a wall. 

  • Theft and Fraud - This act requires that an employee take possession of something they have no permission to possess. Theft is self-explanatory. Fraud would involve using company information or name to gain something for self-profit or to use one's position for self-gain to cheat clients in some way.

  • Breach of Safety Protocol - Safety protocol can refer to actual practices such as wearing safety belts on a construction site, following safe handling instructions when working with dangerous chemicals, or revealing sensitive company information to outsiders. This category can also cover such situations as brandishing a gun on company property or doing anything else that might jeopardize other employees’ safety.

  • Offensive Behavior - This category is a broad one and may often also be a gray area. Offensive behavior may include crude talk, sexual harassment, inappropriate showing of private parts, or bullying. Company culture will often determine the extent to which an action is considered offensive, but behavior such as racial slurs, sexually inappropriate comments, and the like usually fall here.

  • Drug and Alcohol Abuse - Both of these behaviors are banned in the majority of business settings. Some companies require regular drug testing to ensure employees are not using drugs at any time. Others only consider the condition of the employee during company hours.

General Misconduct

General misconduct is rarely something illegal, and it is more of disrespect to coworkers and employers. These kinds of behaviors are more about breaking the rules, both company rules and rules of society.

  • Insubordination - By refusing to follow the orders given by a supervisor, you are guilty of insubordination. Arguing with a supervisor, refusing to follow instructions, or being defiant in any way to your boss is included here.

  • Chronic Tardiness - Companies assign work schedules for a reason. Chronic tardiness creates problems and inconvenience for everyone in the workplace.

  • Rude Comments to Coworkers - Personalities vary in any workplace. However, there is no reason to put aside the rules of common courtesy when dealing with those at work. Rudeness is annoying at best and can be bullying at its worst. 

How To Address Misconducts

Before you hire your first employee, you should know what type of behavior you expect from those in your company. However, many people haven't come into their position with that option, so they must make a plan from where things stand. The policy should cover what behaviors are considered misconduct. There should also be an apparent reference to what types of conduct will result in immediate dismissal. For any incidents of misconduct, the procedure for investigation and correction should remain consistent.

Gather All Information About The Incident

Gathering all information about the incident requires you to speak with anyone directly involved and anyone who may have witnessed the event. Make sure you are as thorough as possible and include information about what led up to the incident and what occurred afterward.

Verbal Warning

Verbal warnings are often all you need for initial incidents that are not serious enough for termination. Let the employee or employees involved know what they have done inappropriately and make it clear you will not accept such behavior. Let them know what will happen should there be a repeat. Do not yell or swear. Call him or her into your office and make the warning privately to maintain respect. Raising your voice, calling names, or using foul language is unprofessional. Verbal warnings should always be documented. This can be as simple as writing down what happened and the conversation that took place, including specific dates and times, to be put in the employee’s file.

Written Warning

Written warnings often come next. In the document, state the behavior and note if the employee has already gotten a previous verbal warning. Write details of the incident or incidents leading up to this action. When you call the employee into the office, have them read and sign the paper. You may offer them a copy for their records, and you must place a copy in the employee's file. Do not engage in arguing. If the employee refuses to sign the document, you should note that on the paper and place it in the file. Depending upon the behavior, you may then need to determine whether this is enough or if the employee should be terminated.

Suspension / Dismissal

Very few acts of misconduct will make it to the third stage. For those that do, the action most often required is a suspension or dismissal. The action you take will depend upon the behavior, the company policy, and whether or not the employee has already been suspended before. This stage is where a pre-written plan is often most helpful. If a dismissal is determined to be necessary, let the employee know what you will use as the specific reason for termination. Again, remain calm and do not engage in arguing.

Proper Documentation

Properly documenting each step of your disciplinary action will save possible trouble in the future. In cases where dismissal is necessary, an employee may try to bring charges of unlawful termination, and it will be essential to have proof of why the termination occurred. Having the proper documentation from the first verbal warning through the rest of the disciplinary process will save you a possible lawsuit.

Use Exact Dates, Times, Places, And Conversations

In your documentation, be as thorough and accurate as possible. Include exact dates and times, if possible. Indicate exactly where incidents occurred and write any verbal exchanges as close to actual wording as possible. This procedure also includes any interviews with others involved that arise after the event. The more information you have, the better you can determine disciplinary action and stand by your decision.

Consider The Terminology Used When Documenting Similar Violations

Try to be consistent whenever you record any misconduct. Use as much of the same terminology across the board, so there is no misunderstanding. While preparing the documentation, it helps to step back and ask yourself if someone coming into the room with no knowledge of the people involved would be able to understand the report with few or no questions. Try to make the documentation speak for itself.

Create Support Systems

Many times, acts of misconduct can be prevented. The person who is always late may have a childcare conflict, or the person showing up regularly with alcohol on their breath may need professional intervention for addiction. Creating an environment that gives employees a support system may offer them a way to approach a matter professionally before the situation becomes a significant discipline issue. In addition to having an open-door policy yourself, maybe you can set up some type of peer support group where other employees can intervene before things escalate. Prevention is always the preferred route when possible.

Provide Continual Staff Training

Things change regularly, and your staff must deal with changes both within the business and outside. Providing regular training on conflict management and other matters that can lead to discipline problems can make it much easier for your employees to manage when things don't run smoothly. You might even consider yearly anger management seminars or provide access to financial and mental health counselors. Train your staff to know how to look for signs of possible problems and work on building team cooperation.

Review The Policy Regularly

At least once a year, take out your policy and review it. Ask yourself what has shown to be productive and what has not worked. Be willing to change what needs changing to make the plan more effective. Providing a copy of the policy to employees each year also keeps them aware of your expectations and what happens if misconduct occurs.

Create A Defined Disciplinary Procedure

Take the time to create a defined disciplinary policy now. Start with an idea of what behavior you expect from employees and then try to consider any ways in which misconduct may occur. Next, determine what acts require immediate dismissal and possible legal action and which ones can best be handled using a step-by-step method. Make it clear to all employees what disciplinary actions can be expected for misconduct. Finally, ask yourself what you might put into place in the way of support and training to help head off problems before discipline is necessary. The best discipline policies are those that are rarely needed.


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This blog post is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.  No attorney-client relationship is created between the author and reader of this blog post, and its content should not be relied upon as legal advice.  Readers are urged to consult legal counsel when seeking legal advice.

Topics: employee misconduct