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Examples of gross misconduct every employer should know

Gross misconduct of any kind in the workplace can threaten the future of a business. This can happen through a breakdown of communication, loss of company culture, and other damaging effects. As such, it’s important that employers can recognise the signs of behaviour that constitutes gross misconduct so it can be addressed early. This starts by examining the prominent examples of gross misconduct and what to look out for in each case. Find insights from employment law experts below.


What is gross misconduct?

While there isn’t a strict legal definition of what constitutes gross misconduct, the government states ‘it can include things like theft, physical violence, gross negligence, or serious insubordination’. The Advisory, Conciliation, and Arbitration Service (ACAS) lists gross misconduct as ‘when an employee has done something that’s very serious or has very serious effects’.

It may also be the case that your organisation has set out its own definition of gross misconduct in HR policies or other documentation. All of these should be taken into consideration when deciding if an employee is guilty of committing gross misconduct. If this is proven to be the case, it can be grounds for immediate dismissal due to an employee’s behaviour at work. Although employers must make sure they follow the correct procedure. Read ‘What is unfair dismissal and how does it differ from fair dismissal?’ for more insights.


Common examples of gross misconduct in the workplace

As discussed above, gross misconduct doesn’t have a singular definition that informs when someone has committed gross misconduct. Nevertheless, there are some examples which are generally accepted as gross misconduct regardless of the scenario or workplace. It should be mentioned that an employee can still exhibit behaviour that is classed as ‘misconduct’, although this will typically concern actions that breach certain contractual obligations. For instance, being late to work. Gross misconduct behaviour is much more serious.

Not only does theft and fraud cause financial loss to the business, but it can also damage its reputation in the wider world. This can act as a barrier to client partnerships and damage the relationship between the business and service users. Fraud and theft concerns:

  • Stealing company owned equipment or cash, as well as possessions belonging to other employees.
  • Obtaining or disclosing commercial data through unlawful means.
  • Falsifying accounts or documentation.
  • Submitting fraudulent expenses claims.
  • Using personal data held by the business for personal reasons.

This concerns both acts of violence as well as the threat of violence. If an employee is accused of being violent, it’s important to follow a fair and reasonable procedure in finding out the truth. Witness statements may have to be drawn up, which is something employment law consultants for employers can help with.

Under the Equality Act 2010, workplace harassment can manifest as discrimination due to physical characteristics or beliefs, less favourable treatment, or sexual harassment. In either case, harassment violates an employee’s dignity or creates an environment that is intimidating, degrading, humiliating, or offensive. Harassment is also defined by a set of protected characteristics which the unwanted behaviour is related to. These are:

  • Age.
  • Race.
  • Disability.
  • Religion or belief.
  • Pregnancy and maternity.
  • Sex.
  • Sexual orientation.
  • Gender reassignment.
  • Marriage and civil partnership.

Unwanted behaviour that isn’t related to the protected characteristics listed above is considered bullying. Furthermore, where harassment typically happens out of sight of the majority employees, workplace bullying can manifest in more public settings. It could easily be passed off as playful teasing or get dismissed a one-off if management is witnessing it for the first time. However, it can still result in the bullied employee being unhappy at work. This can have a wider impact on company culture and might result in an employee asking to be moved to a different department, causing a potentially costly reassigning process.

Find employer advice on ‘How to deal with workplace bullying effectively’.

In certain workplaces, health and safety rules are in place to protect the lives of employees and prevent damage to business infrastructure. Common examples include construction and technical manufacturing. Here, flaunting health and safety rules poses a significant liability for employers. You should look out for employees that:

  • Refuse to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
  • Operate on-site vehicles recklessly.
  • Don’t use machinery guards.
  • Aren’t conducting necessary equipment checks.

It should almost go without saying that being under the influence of drugs or alcohol while at work is classed as gross misconduct. However, employers are advised to handle suspected intoxication with care. This is because the employee might have personal reasons for being intoxicated, such as a bereavement or a relapse into addiction. In these cases, discussing the issue in confidence can repair the damage done and prevent the loss of a valuable worker.

Bespoke HR advice for employers

Employment Law Services (ELS) Ltd provide complete solutions for businesses in all aspects of HR and employment law. This includes advice for difficult situations such as managing workplace disputes and gross misconduct behaviour. Our legal team will help you prepare by getting all the right policies and procedures in place. We’ll then be by your side should a disciplinary hearing be necessary, or you need to go through the appeals process. Contact us if you have any concerns in the workplace. Our consultations can be scheduled by employers and employees.