Gross Misconduct in the Workplace (A Guide!)


When an employee commits an act that is so bad it warrants immediate dismissal, this is often referred to as ‘gross misconduct’ in the workplace. In some cases, an employer may be in their right to dismiss the employee without any notice and without having to offer them any extra pay.

A lot of different types of behaviour can count as gross misconduct in the workplace. Here are some of the most common forms of behaviour to look out for in your employees.

Behaviour that severely damages the reputation/productivity of your business

Many employees will make mistakes that cost money or even lose a customer, but if such a mistake is enough to severely damage your company’s reputation or productivity this could be classed as gross misconduct.

For example, an employee may act hostile towards clients, behaving in a way that’s not only unprofessional but potentially results in heavy legal action, negative media attention or even the injury of a client.

An employee may be consistently absent or late without any explanation. This could lead to important work not being done and it could cause huge pressure for everyone else.

An employee may also destroy important tools or lose important information that is required to keep the company running. This could be classed as gross misconduct, whether or not the behaviour was intentional.

Gross misconduct in the workplace: Illegal behaviour

Certain behaviour may be classed as illegal under the eyes of the law and therefore could be classed as gross misconduct. Theft is a clear example of this.

An employee may have stolen from your business, or stolen from clients whilst on the job. On top of being an arrestable offence, this behaviour may have led to you having to fork out money for reparations.

Another example could be catching an employee with drugs on them. Such behaviour could also be enough to get the police involved, and could cause damage to the reputation of the business were such news to get out.

Even on a lesser level, an act as simple as smoking in the toilet is technically an illegal act on a commercial premises and therefore could be a sackable offence.

Behaviour that causes a security/health risk

An action made by an employee may result in a major security risk or a health and safety risk. This could be enough to be classed as gross misconduct. An example of a security risk could be an employee downloading malicious software onto a computer or giving out passwords to outsiders that could be misused.

The personal information of clients and even staff members could be at risk and you may then be liable for any damage that is done. A health and safety risk meanwhile could involve many scenarios.

An employee could put themselves in danger such as operating dangerous machinery without safety equipment. They could put fellow staff in danger such as spilling chemicals in the workplace or starting a fire. They could even put a customer’s health at risk such as serving a meal with a shard of glass in it.

Even if no-one’s personal information is misused, even if no-one is injured or falls ill, such an action could be enough to damage your company’s reputation, prevent productivity or even result in massive lawsuit costs.

Behaviour that damages relationships between staff members

Certain behaviour between an employee and other staff members could be enough that you and your workforce can no longer work together. An employee may be bullying another employee.

Alternatively an employee may have made a highly discriminative remark to another member of staff. Staff members may be refusing to work with other employees as a result or may have even resigned as a result of such behaviour.

This could similarly be affecting your business’s reputation and productivity and therefore could be enough to be classed as gross misconduct, although it’s likely you’ll have to talk with your employees first to get both sides of the story and decide who is to blame.

Other behaviour that is prohibited in a contract

Whilst the above forms of behaviour are most commonly accepted to be gross misconduct, there may be other forms of behaviour that may not have as serious a tangible impact, but you yourself view them to be on a similar level. In some respects, you have control over what you class as gross misconduct, so long as it is written within a contract between you and your employees.

A common example of such behaviour could be turning up to work intoxicated. Whilst a drunk employee may not put anyone at danger or make any wrong actions whilst under the influence, simply being intoxicated could be enough. Similarly inappropriate behaviour such as watching pornography on a work computer or gambling in the workplace could be also be deemed as gross misconduct. Whilst no clients or fellow staff members may have witnessed such behaviour, you as an employer may seriously doubt that person’s professionalism and therefore be able to use this against them. Other behaviour could include accepting bribes or stealing clients to work with individually.

A contract must clearly state that such behaviour can be classed as gross misconduct. Whilst you can choose any behaviour to be classed as gross misconduct, it’s worth remembering that this doesn’t always defend you from a lawsuit if you do decide to fire an employee for such an offence. If an employee thinks that they were dismissed for a reason that isn’t serious enough, they may still be able to find a case against you even if it is written in a contract.

What to do if an employee commits gross misconduct in the workplace?

Because gross misconduct covers such a vast range of behaviours, it is always best to seek legal advice before taking action.

A solicitor will be able to advise you best on how to deal with your employee and how to prevent such behaviour from happening again. Legal advice could also be worth taking when writing up a contract and deciding what classes as gross misconduct.


Gross Misconduct in the Workplace (A Guide!) 1

Gill Laing is a qualified Legal Researcher & Analyst with niche specialisms in Law, Tax, Human Resources, Immigration & Employment Law.

Gill is a Multiple Business Owner and the Managing Director of Prof Services - a Marketing Agency for the Professional Services Sector.

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