What is Employee Misconduct? Workplace Examples

In the business world, the devil is employee misconduct and can rear its ugly head in any workplace, at any time. You never know until it happens.

Employee misconduct is a broad umbrella covering bad employee behavior. There are examples of misconduct in every workplace, but what they look like can vary greatly. With so many cases of employee misconduct out there, blindly trusting your employees can create incidents.

Employers need to stay alert to all types of employee misconduct to keep their organization on track and prevent further misconduct. This article will go through the different types of misconduct that an employee might be guilty of. So, stay with me to learn about it.

What is Employee Misconduct?

Employee misconduct is the type of behavior that is harmful to your organization. When an employee refuses to follow workplace policies or procedures, shows offensive behavior, breaks the law, purposefully damages company assets, or harms their place of employment. It ranges from the more benign acts like failing to show up on time to the most severe cases of outright fraud, lying about qualifications, or intentionally harming co-workers.

Employee misconduct is a serious issue that can often result in immediate termination. It can lead to many adverse effects on an organization, including decreased employee morale and productivity, higher turnover rates, increased liability exposure, lawsuits, fines, or other penalties for violating laws regulating employee conduct.

Don’t take employee misconduct lightly. According to research by Vault Platform, misconduct cost U.S. businesses $20 billion in 2020.

To learn more, watch the video below or skip ahead to read more.

Types of Employee Misconduct

There are two types of employee misconduct. One is gross employee misconduct, and the other is general employee misconduct.

Gross Misconduct

Gross misconduct is a term used in employment law. In gross misconduct, the misconduct is severe enough to affect the company’s standing or production. The employee receives summary dismissal for such misconduct, even without prior notice. The degree of seriousness in its definition varies from one state to another. Still, it covers a case where the employee fails to perform their work obligations due to unethical, illegal, or inappropriate behavior.

General Misconduct

On the other hand, if an employee fails to perform their work obligations due to personal problems or negligence, it is general misconduct or simple misconduct. The organization has a right to give warnings regarding this type of misconduct. After providing proper verbal warnings or written notices once or twice, authorities can take decisive action. Some examples include missing work frequently due to illness or injuries, taking excessive leave without permission, or being late to work.

To learn how to handle both types of employee misconduct, check our HR Certification Courses.

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What are the Different Examples of Employee Misconduct?

As mentioned above, there are many examples of employee misconduct. However, the most common ones are the following:

Theft and Fraud

Theft and fraud are some of the worst types of gross misconduct that an employee can commit in any organization. It is illegal, immoral, and highly damaging to a company’s reputation if it gets out. It can lead to loss of potential customers, and legal and financial troubles.

There are several forms of fraud, including embezzlement, stealing a credit card, tax evasion, and voter or insurance fraud. However, there are also other forms of theft and fraud, such as stealing merchandise, using company resources for personal reasons, stealing from co-workers, etc.


Violence is a common type of employee misconduct that occurs in the workplace. The extent to which they happen varies. Some companies have employees who don’t have significant problems with violence, but others struggle with it. It is one of the main reasons companies make clear policies on how employees should conduct themselves at work and that there is zero-tolerance for this type of behavior. In cases of violence, immediate dismissal is often the result.

Employee disengagement impactsViolence is the threat of physical contact meant to harm another person. It can range from threats of violence or aggressive pushing and shoving to actual bodily injury due to an employee’s violent behavior.

It is also one of the most common types of misconduct. 50% of total misconduct has either been bullying or harassment.

Some examples of workplace violence include bullying, stalking, assault with a deadly weapon, threatening employees, supervisors, or customers, sexual harassment, etc. It is prohibited to carry a weapon or dangerous item in any faculty that provides services to the public, such as hospitals, airports, parking garages, schools, and office buildings.


Employee harassment can involve different forms of verbal and non-verbal communication meant to annoy, demean, threaten or otherwise create a hostile environment within an organization. The definition of such conduct may vary by location, depending on the local laws. It might involve making threats, sending harassing messages or rude comments, purposely excluding someone from workplace conversations or activities, etc.

Tips to improve employee experienceSexual harassment is the most common form of harassment that employers have to deal with. It involves unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that an employee finds offensive or an act that creates a hostile or abusive work environment.

Use of Drugs and Alcohol

Employees may be required to perform their jobs with a certain level of skill and safety, which might require that they remain sober. When an employee is under the influence of drugs or alcohol on the job site, it can risk accidents. This type of misconduct can also pose a substantial threat to the company’s image in the case of media involvement. The HR department must take disciplinary action or issue written warnings to an employee that uses drugs during working hours.

Violation of Safety Protocol

Health and safety regulations protect everyone and minimize the risk of accidents in the workplace. This type of misconduct happens in hazardous environments or construction sites, but it can occur anywhere.

Employees should follow specific safety protocols depending on their roles and the type of work. Employees who violate such protocols can put other employees, clients, and other individuals at risk of injury. Examples include violating federal or local health and safety regulations regarding machinery, watercraft, equipment usage, etc. An employer must handle misconduct related to safety protocol violations urgently, especially at a construction site.

Damage to Goods and Property

Misuse of the property refers to an employee’s intentional or negligent damage, defacing, destruction, alteration, or misuse of any company’s equipment, products, or other necessary assets to complete their duties. Examples of this type of misconduct include willfully breaking company property, tampering with equipment or machinery, damaging organization property by misusing it, intentionally misusing computer systems or files, etc.

Companies often spend a large amount of money to purchase tools or equipment for use in the workplace. Employee misconduct of this type affects the company’s budget, but it can also create a significant safety hazard. Employers need to conduct employee misconduct investigations and handle such issues immediately.

Breach of Confidentiality

Confidentiality agreements protect information given to employees or other individuals based on trust. An employment agreement can vary depending on the job role, industry, and organization involved.

When an employee’s actions involve revealing sensitive information to an individual or organization without disclosing that they are legally obligated to keep it confidential, this is misconduct.

Employee engagement levelsMisconduct can be disclosing details about company trade secrets, financial matters, health information, customer lists, or other types of confidential communication. Disclosing personal information without consent, and selling private business information to third parties for financial gain are considered misconduct. An organization must take legal action against such misconduct. A supervisor must handle misconduct and take possible legal action if an employee is found guilty of breach of confidentiality in an investigation process.

Crafting False Credentials

An employee’s level of education, experience, and skills can affect their ability to perform specific tasks and be viewed as competent. The organization might require employees to maintain a certain level of these attributes throughout their employment to keep them competitive. If an employee falsifies certificates, resumes, or a document related to professional performance or credentials, this represents a form of misconduct.

An example of crafting false documents and credentials can include an employee exaggerating their qualifications on a document, tampering with human resources records to make themselves look better, or altering professional certificates. This type of misconduct can also occur when a candidate for employment lies about schooling or skills during the interview process to secure a job.

If serious enough, such misconduct can also result in an investigation and legal actions.

Creating False Documentations

Employee misconduct of this nature refers to the intentional or negligent creation or usage of false documents. It can include anything from reporting misconduct, signing false names in a document to reports or other documentation, or submitting a fake employee’s file. Documents intended to represent a company’s interests must be accurate and trustworthy.

Why employee appreciation is importantInaccurate or false documentation can affect the company even if it doesn’t reach outside organizations or individuals. For example, erroneous paperwork within the organization might confuse which records are accurate and true, create a lack of transparency, lead to mistrust among employees, and even give the appearance that the company is not upholding its standards. The firm’s authorities must take interim action by issuing written warnings to employees.

Violation of Company Policy

It’s up to each company to develop policies that work best for their business and employees. Some common company policy violations include coming in late or leaving early, not following dress code guidelines set by the employer, or attending outside meetings without prior approval from a supervisor. It also includes taking excessive breaks, eating or drinking at inappropriate times, falsifying time cards, using company resources for personal reasons, etc.

It is any violation of the employer’s policies that occurs during working within a particular company. Most employers take misconduct seriously, as it can affect productivity and stability. If employees violate their own established standards or their employer, they could face termination and other disciplinary actions.

How to Handle Employee Misconduct?

Addressing employee misconduct is a delicate process, as it involves several factors, including the accused party’s employment record and past behavior. When an employee commits an act of misconduct, other employees should report misconduct, and managers should respond responsibly. Depending on the type of misconduct, consequences can include verbal warning, final written warning, and immediate termination.

Employee misconduct

Following are the steps and procedures managers and companies should take to address employee misconduct:

  • If employee misconduct occurs in your company, you need to take action. You need to determine if the misconduct is severe enough to warrant disciplinary procedures or a simple verbal warning. If you don’t act quickly, there could be negative consequences for you, your department, and the company.
  • Investigate the issue by collecting all relevant information. During an employee misconduct investigation, you should talk with any witnesses. Examine all evidence and review the company’s policies to determine what action to take.
  • Write down all the details of the misconduct committed by the employee found via the investigation plan. It should include an account of what happened and who was involved.
  • Discuss the issue with the higher authority of the company or legal counsel. Present the evidence of the misconduct committed by the employee.
  • Analyze the severity of the employee misconduct. Consider its impact on the company and your department and what actions you should take against the accused individual.
  • According to the employee handbook, suggest possible options for disciplinary action against the employee if you find them to be at fault. Follow the company’s established processes and procedures when deciding how to address the issue for the employees involved.

employee disciplinary policy


Handling an employee misconduct investigation isn’t easy. Nevertheless, every business must have a proper process for handling offenses and internal investigations.

It makes the process easier, but it also results in a safer workplace. Good luck.

If you are new to Human Resources and are looking to break into an HR role, we recommend taking our HR Certification Courses, where you will learn how to build your skillset in human resources, build your human resources network, craft a great HR resume, and create a successful job search strategy.

Josh Fechter
Josh Fechter is the founder of HR.University. He's a certified HR professional and has managed global teams across 5 different continents including their benefits and payroll. You can connect with him on LinkedIn here.