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How To Handle Gross Misconduct In The Workplace

Disciplinary meeting

Gross misconduct in the workplace or business environment is a negative behaviour that is so degrading, it can result in punishable outcomes like suspension and dismissal. Often seen as a breach of trust, code of conduct, rights and obligations between employer and employee, gross misconduct is a serious crime shunned in the workplace.

It is important for employers to understand the actual meaning of gross misconduct and how to deal with it effectively, if it arises. This includes having comprehensive strict policies and procedures in place that outline clearly what gross misconduct is within the workplace, and its penalty attached.

As an employer, you should be simple, yet consistent in your approach in handling gross misconduct and aiming to ensure fair outcomes, while taking into accounts any mitigating factors.

What is Gross Misconduct?

First there is misconduct, and gross misconduct being a serious form of misconduct resulting in severe disciplinary action or dismissal. It contains activities that are considered unacceptable, illegal, and damaging to an employer’s integrity and interests.

A few examples of gross misconduct include:

  • Offensive or violent behaviour: this includes aggressive or intimidating behaviour, bullying, harassment, violence between employees or threats.
  • Fraud: this includes things like forging documents or altering numbers for personal gain.
  • Theft: this could include stealing money or property from the company.
  • Breaching confidentiality: this includes divulging confidential information outside of the company.
  • Using drugs or alcohol while at work: this could result in the inability to work effectively, and may include illegal activity.
  • Wilful property damage: this includes deliberately damaging company property or damaging through negligence.
  • Gross negligence: this includes a serious lack of care which has endangered those around you or impacted the company’s reputation.
  • Serious insubordination: this includes the refusal to follow management requests leading to a serious breakdown of trust.

Similarly, breaching a company’s health and safety regulations and procedures could also result in accusations of gross misconduct as these are usually shameful acts of carelessness or disregard for the well-being of others.

In all these instances, employers should always aim to take appropriate disciplinary action but may also want to get outside legal advice about their rights and obligations as an employer when dealing with such cases.

Misconduct vs Gross Misconduct

Like I mentioned earlier, misconduct and gross misconduct in the workplace are two distinct offences with various but different implications. Misconduct can be defined as a behaviour that goes against the rules, regulations and policies of the organisation, or a behaviour that has a contrary demonstration to the acceptable standards of conduct and policies.

While gross misconduct on the other hand, refers to serious offences such as illegal and shameful actions, or a breach in contract, resulting in significant consequences for the employee and the organisation as a whole.

Thus, companies need to take effective disciplinary actions of gross misconduct more severely compared to that of misconduct and some of these actions should include termination of employment. So, it is important employees are made to understand the difference between the two types of offences and the penalty attached if attempted.

Can Constant Misconduct Amount to Gross Misconduct?

Continuous acts of misconduct can definitely lead to gross misconduct. Once misconduct becomes habitual, such an individual is only steps away from gross misconduct. Because continuous acts of misconduct show a repeated disregard for the company or organisation’s policies, agreement and protocols.

It is important companies and organisations alike monitor their employees displaying minor acts of misconduct, so that culprits and their patterns are discovered before committing serious misconduct, enough to be classified gross misconduct. This act of monitoring allows employers to provide clear disciplinary warnings and swift disciplinary actions before matters escalate.

Furthermore, effective seminars and training are essential for all staff members, so they become aware of what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviours within and beyond their workspace.

Is Gross Misconduct Outlined in Employee Contracts?

Employee contracts in most companies outline expectations of behaviours and expected code of conduct to ensure a safe and productive work environment. It is also advisable a company have the expected standards and attached penalty if those standards are breached outlined in employees’ contracts. These standards and expectations can include specific rules and regulations relating to conduct within the company, such as how employees are expected to interact with each other, and the barrier to their level of interaction.

In special cases, the contract may even list out forms of gross misconduct that will warrant serious disciplinary actions which might include contract termination.

As an employer, it is advised to identify what constitutes gross misconduct within your company and enlist them in employee contracts, as this will be beneficial for the company should any case arise.

Do You Need to Pay an Employee who has Committed Gross Misconduct?

Once an employee is dismissed or has their contract terminated due to gross misconduct, a few of the pays they would require include:

  • Unpaid wages up until the dismissal date.
  • Any expenses owed by the company to the employee.
  • Any holidays, yet to be taken.

As long as gross misconduct is involved, a company doesn’t need to offer a working notice period, or any compensation package, except the ones owed. The company has to follow the fair and expected procedure in dismissing such employees. An immediate effective dismissal always applies to cases of gross misconduct. Although, a company may wish to suspend the employee with pay, while investigations are being carried out on the case, depending on the circumstances.

Gross Misconduct: The Procedure to Follow

When an employer is presented with a situation of gross misconduct, it is important, they know and understand that every step to solving the case needs to be handled fairly and carefully. The company should already have a procedure in place for handling cases like gross misconduct, or alternatively may follow the  ACAs Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures.

It is also an employer’s responsibility to take appropriate disciplinary actions when an employee has been suspected of an act of gross misconduct. This means following a credible process without flaws in order to pass unbiased judgement on cases of misconduct while protecting the organisation and employee in question.

In cases of gross misconduct, thorough investigation should be the first step taken to ensure all relevant information is gathered around the case. It follows that those responsible for making disciplinary decisions are well informed of the incident without bias or hearsay.

In every case, it is important to have the right code of conduct so that employees remember they are never allowed to jump to conclusions which might lead to bias or wrong actions. They should give both sides a chance to present their versions of the incident during a disciplinary hearing. Once all steps are carried out in the right manner, and the employer decides misconduct has occurred, further disciplinary actions can then be taken as deemed fit.

It is not advisable to dismiss an employee without performing the right procedure to ensure accurate and unbiased disciplinary procedure has been followed, as this could leave the company open to a claim for unfair treatment and dismissal.

All evidence and decisions should be recorded and communicated to the employee in question in an effective manner.

Investigatory Meeting vs Disciplinary Meeting

Investigatory and disciplinary meetings might perform differently but are equally important processes in any company. An investigatory meeting is a fact-finding process incurred when an employer or the company has a reason to believe that there may be a case of foul play or misconduct on the part of the employees. It’s a tedious process in which the inspector meets with employees to obtain additional information and perspectives, in order to make an effective decision on the case.

Disciplinary actions are taken after the wrongdoing has been confirmed by either the investigatory team or the employer. In this case, the supervisor draws the attention of the employee to notify them of the disciplinary measures taken against them such as probationary period or contract termination.

In short, the main difference between an investigatory and disciplinary meeting lies in the fact that one involves determining if the case of misconduct has taken place and the other involves passing judgement once a case of misconduct has been confirmed.

What do I Need to Prepare for a Disciplinary Meeting?

As an employer or employee, preparing for a disciplinary meeting can sure be stressful, time taken and intimidating regardless of the situation. It is important employers have all their facts verified ahead of time to ensure the meeting runs as smoothly as required.

As an employer, having verified and specific evidence or witnesses ready to present can make all the difference in a disciplinary meeting. In the case of gross misconduct, employers should always provide the deemed culprit with information about what was observed and the repercussions that may be taken against them.

Additionally, employers are advised to give at least 24 hours advance notice to the employee prior to the meeting. So, the employee has sufficient time to prepare and properly understand the scope of the meeting.

Through adequate and effective preparation for these meetings, employers can assure their employees’ rights are respected while upholding organisational standards.

 

Establishing Fair Dismissal in Tribunal

In cases where the employee has been with the company for a substantial amount of time, they may introduce a claim for unfair dismissal.

In a tribunal, establishing the fairness of a dismissal involves careful consideration of certain criteria. Generally speaking, dismissals conducted in accordance to the business established policies and procedures are usually considered fair dismissals.

Additionally, decisions to terminate an employee’s contract should always be based on the individual merits and authenticity of the case. For example, if an employer has acted on their own accord and decided that an employee was not capable of performing the given duties and can provide details and process on arriving on this verdict, then this case is likely to be found fair in a tribunal.

As an employer, upholding standard requirements such as carrying out the required investigations, providing proper notice to the employee ahead of a disciplinary meeting and providing recorded evidence and decision is also essential in classifying a dismissal fair in a tribunal.

The legal considerations around unfair dismissals are complex; therefore, it would be advantageous to businesses to seek proper professional advice from experienced employment law advisors before dismissing and terminating any employee’s contract.

What Must an Employer Present to an Employment Tribunal if an Employee Makes a Claim?

An employer must be able to prove the authenticity of the case if an employee brings a claim for an unfair dismissal to an employment tribunal.

Both parties should present documented evidence and attend the tribunal hearing where it is expected to bring along any relevant documentation and witness statements in support of their case and against their opposition case.

The employer must prove that the dismissal was fair with evidence that the employee had exhibited forms of misconduct, the steps the employer took were according to the right procedures, and proof of consultation with the employee on the case.

What Should You Do If You Have Been Accused of Gross Misconduct?

Being accused of gross misconduct is a serious case that attracts serious penalties, so it is important to take matters seriously and handle the situation effectively.

Firstly, it is important to maintain professionalism while interacting with your employer, the investigative board, the disciplinary board, or any other representative from the organisation. To gain full information and understanding on the implications and the crime you’ve been accused of, it is advised to ask your supervisor or Human Resources team for clarification and ensure you understand which policies and regulations the alleged misconduct may violate.

It is also crucial to be honest with yourself and the organisation, and acknowledge any wrongdoing that has played out from your end, so a proper verdict can be passed. Focus on being objective about the facts without allowing any emotional flaw. Take time to craft your responses which clearly convey your side of the story.

It is also important to record and document conversations are other activities relevant to the case for future reference. Although if the case escalates and turns into a formal disciplinary process, ensure the company’s policies are closely followed and are not broken any further.

Finally, request assistance from human resources to ensure your rights are observed throughout the case.

Final Thoughts

It is important both employers and employees of any organisation are aware of misconduct, gross misconduct, and its consequences within the company, as it can have lasting effects on the company and its workplace. As an employer, by establishing policies and standards regarding gross misconduct and its consequences, it ensures employees understand and adhere to the proper professional conduct and understand the consequence of breaching those standards.

Furthermore, it is important employees address gross misconduct cases quickly and effectively, providing an unbiased judgement on the employee, by following the proper disciplinary protocol. This will ensure the effect of gross misconduct on the company and its employees is reduced effectively.

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