Organizational Wellness

Keeping Tabs on Misconduct in the Workplace

Mar 16, 2023
Last Updated May 22, 2024

Every social group has its own code of conduct. This is especially true at your workplace, where bad behavior can have a huge impact on the company’s success and the wellbeing of everyone involved.

Workplace misconduct is any behavior or action that violates ethical, professional, or legal standards of behavior in the workplace. It can take many forms, ranging from relatively minor violations of workplace policies to egregious behavior that would be unacceptable anywhere, let alone in a professional environment. 

Yes, workplace misconduct includes harassment of all kinds. But it can also include relatively minor infractions like excessive tardiness and stealing pens. (We all know someone who just takes way too many pens.)

Since workplace misconduct can take so many forms, it requires a range of solutions. As part of promoting good employee relations, you’ll need a variety of strategies to combat and prevent misconduct, from clear-cut policies to a helpful conflict resolution process. 

Three out of four US office workers have been a victim of workplace misconduct or have seen some form of workplace misconduct occur during the course of their careers, according to a study published in 2021. Here’s how you can avoid adding to that statistic by nipping workplace conduct in the bud before it becomes too costly for you and your employees.

Identifying Misconduct in the Workplace

As previously mentioned, there are different types and degrees of workplace misconduct, and the type or degree of infraction will determine how it should be dealt with. One of the first ways to determine how severe an instance of misconduct is is to figure out whether it is an instance of minor misconduct or gross misconduct.

According to the experts at the online Houston Chronicle, minor misconduct, also known as general misconduct, is not “an intentional act to harm the company or another person,” but can still cause problems in the workplace. Some common types of minor workplace misconduct include:

  • Insubordination: SHRM defines insubordination as “an employee’s intentional refusal to obey an employer’s lawful and reasonable orders.” Insubordination can undermine the authority of those in management positions and interfere with the function of your organization.
  • Application dishonesty: You want to know who you are hiring when you hire them. When an employee misrepresents themselves on their resume, you can’t be sure they’re qualified for their role position. This type of conduct may be grounds for dismissal depending on the severity of the falsification.
  • Inappropriate or rude words: Professionalism is an important part of conduct in the workplace, and crude, harsh, or angry comments made by employees to coworkers or customers can hurt your business’s reputation.
  • Repeated absence or tardiness: You need to be able to count on your employees to show up and do their job when it needs to be done. If you can’t, it can hurt your bottom line and make everyone else’s jobs more difficult.

These instances of misconduct include unprofessional behavior and are not usually grounds for immediate termination of employment. 

Gross misconduct, on the other hand, can be. Instances of gross misconduct often involve behavior that is illegal or that violates company policy so thoroughly that the act is grounds for immediate dismissal. Types of gross misconduct may include:

  • Breaches of confidentiality: Violating non-disclosure agreements, using private data for personal use, or any action that risks your company’s compliance with federal regulations governing private data.
  • Unethical relationships: Quid quo pro relationships or otherwise inappropriate relationships with managers, clients, or coworkers.
  • Discrimination: Any treatment of coworkers or clients that discriminates on the basis of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, or any other protected categories.
  • Harassment: Sexual harassment, bullying, physical violence, threats, stalking, or other harassing behaviors directed at coworkers or clients either in-person or online.
  • Fraud: Intentionally using deceit to gain access to company or client assets for personal gain.
  • Theft: Stealing company equipment, merchandise, or the property of clients or other employees.
  • Property damage: Deliberate damage to company property, or negligence that results in damage to said property.
  • Unsafe behavior: Behavior that puts clients or other employees at risk, including non-compliance with safety protocols.

Some of these types of misconduct may be more serious or have more immediate consequences than others, but all misconduct has a negative effect on you, your employees, and your business as a whole. 

As put by SkillsYouNeed: “Unchecked and severe workplace misconduct by employees results in a loss of employee morale, the development of a culture of apathy and negativity, and decreased productivity on the part of the organization.” In short, workplace misconduct lowers employee satisfaction, which also leads to increased turnover. People don’t want to work in an environment where they feel they can’t trust their coworkers or count on management to handle problems.

This kind of turnover can lead to steep financial costs for your company. The study we previously mentioned on how widespread workplace misconduct is also reported that U.S. businesses lost a whopping $20.2 billion in revenue during the year 2021 due to misconduct in the workplace. 

That mind-boggling number is a conservative estimate based solely on the cost of hiring new employees when old employees leave due to misconduct. It doesn’t even take into account the compensation or legal fees such situations might require.

Aside from the hits to your bottom line due to increased turnover and decreased productivity, employee misconduct can ruin people’s careers. Infracting employees can damage your company’s brand and reputation while also risking their own career prospects. Nobody benefits.

Handling Misconduct in the Workplace

To avoid these outcomes, it is essential to take steps to both prevent misconduct and resolve it quickly when it does occur. The best way to do so is to first clearly communicate criteria for misconduct to all employees. Clearly communicating expectations is an important part of mindful leadership and can help stop misconduct before it even begins.

Preventing misconduct can also take the form of encouraging good behavior and focusing on the wellbeing of your employees. Employees that are happy with their job are more likely to feel that they have a personal stake in the company and less likely to engage in various forms of misconduct, so ensure that you have a program to promote employee wellbeing. It’s cliche but true, you have to give love to get love back.

As you focus on good employee relations, be sure to also outline a process for addressing workplace misconduct. Your employees will feel more comfortable and confident on where they stand if they know what counts as misconduct and what the consequences of misconduct will be. 

Your process for handling misconduct should differentiate between minor and major misconduct. As we have already discussed, failing to clock in on time is very different from stealing money from customers’ accounts. Whatever type of misconduct you may be dealing with, however, be sure to:

  • Handle issues quickly
  • Investigate any malfeasance
  • Document any evidence
  • Consult with all involved
  • Work with leaders
  • Decide consequences based on severity of misconduct

While speed matters here, you also want to provide employees with the opportunity to improve their behavior where possible, especially if their misconduct is minor or a first-time offense. In some cases of misconduct, it might be wise to deploy one disciplinary action for first-time behaviors and escalate if the behavior continues. These steps may include the following:

  1. Verbal warning: An employee is given a verbal warning to cease and desist from the behavior. For many instances of minor misconduct, this may be all the correction that needs to take place.
  2. Written warning: An employee is given a more formal warning via email or letter.
  3. Probation: An employee is closely monitored for a time, which can be from 60 to 90 days. During this period, they may be required to make certain efforts to improve their performance or behavior.
  4. Suspension: An employee has certain privileges revoked or is placed on leave away from the workplace. This can take place during an investigation of gross misconduct.
  5. Dismissal: An employee is fired. In the cases of certain types of gross misconduct, this may be the only viable action your business can take, regardless of whether it is a first-time offense or not.

Short of the worst examples of gross misconduct, there is a lot you can do to work with employees to correct their behavior. If you are able to work with employees to correct damaging behaviors, you can help both them and your company become better. 

As you put together a comprehensive plan to deal with misconduct, make sure that you also provide ways for employees to learn, grow, and develop healthy habits.

Making Your Workplace a Better Place to Work

Policies that are put in place to improve employee wellbeing will increase employee satisfaction, improve productivity, and decrease misconduct in the workplace, which will in turn boost your company’s brand, reputation, and bottom line. 

If you’re ready to help your employees be happy, healthy, and productive, talk to a Wellbeing Specialist from Wellhub today. We offer a treasure trove of information and resources to help you and your employees reach your full potential.

Company healthcare costs drop by up to 35% with Wellhub! (* Based on proprietary research comparing healthcare costs of active Wellhub users to non-users.) Talk to a Wellbeing Specialist to see how we can help reduce your healthcare spending!



Wellhub Editorial Team

The Wellhub Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.


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