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What Is Workplace Misconduct and How To Handle It?

A photo of an employee looking confused about how to handle workplace misconduct

As a leader, ensuring a safe and welcoming workplace is a paramount responsibility. With business growth, instances of employee misconduct may arise. Understanding what constitutes misconduct and the vital importance of promptly addressing it is crucial for employers committed to fostering a positive workplace culture.


Understanding Workplace Misconduct

Workplace misconduct refers to an employee's actions that violate established rules, policies, or ethical standards set by the employer. It deviates from acceptable professional conduct and adversely affects the work environment, fellow employees, or the individual's work. It spans a spectrum, from minor infractions that can be corrected through counseling, and training to serious breaches of company policy that warrant immediate action, such as termination.


Examples Of Workplace Misconduct

1. Violation of Company Policies

Breaching rules and policies set by the company, such as attendance policies, code of conduct, or internet usage policies.

2. Insubordination

Refusing to follow instructions from supervisors or deliberately disregarding authority.

3. Harassment

Engaging in any form of harassment, including sexual harassment, bullying, or discriminatory behavior.

4. Theft or Fraud

Stealing company property, embezzling funds, or engaging in fraudulent activities.

5. Conflict of Interest

Engaging in activities that create a conflict of interest with the employer's interests, such as taking on a second job with a competitor without disclosure.

6. Dishonesty

Providing false information, lying, or misrepresenting facts to the employer or colleagues.

7. Violence or Threats

Engaging in violent behavior or making threats against coworkers or superiors.

8. Substance Abuse

Using drugs or alcohol in a way that impairs job performance or violates company policies.

9. Misuse of Company Resources

Inappropriately using company resources, including time, equipment, or proprietary information.

10. Sabotage

Deliberately damaging company property or undermining the work of colleagues.


Difference Between Minor And Major Misconduct

There isn't a strict definition on minor and major misconduct in the Employment Act 1955. In general, minor misconducts may be interpreted as any act of indiscipline or behavior by an employee that causes minimal damage or harm to other people or the company and can be handled through disciplinary procedures. While, major misconducts typically involve serious breaches of company policy or illegal actions and could lead to immediate termination.

The categorization of minor and major misconduct is dependent on the company’s policies. It is relatively subjective and varies by industry. For instance, smoking might be minor in a legal firm but major in an oil and gas plant. In addition, habitual minor misconduct can escalate to major, i.e.habitual late-coming evolving from minor lateness.


How To Address Workplace Misconduct?

Effectively addressing workplace misconduct is a crucial aspect of maintaining a healthy work environment. Employers who knowingly retain an employee despite misconduct effectively condone the breach. This waiver of retroactive permission prevents the employer from later punishing the employee for it.

As per Section 14 of the Employment Act 1955, employers can discipline employees for misconduct following a due inquiry. This entails a detailed investigation, transparent communication of allegations, and providing the employee an opportunity to present their side.

Upon receiving a misconduct report, it's imperative to:

1. React Swiftly

Address misconduct promptly to prevent employees from assuming their actions are acceptable. Delay in addressing the misconduct may result in a hostile work environment and diminished morale among other team members.

2. Evaluate the Situation

Gather relevant information, and evidence, and document all aspects of the incident, crucial for determining the severity of the misconduct, be it minor or major.

3. Take Action

Create an action plan with detailed steps, clearly communicated to all involved parties.

For minor misconduct, this may trigger a standardized disciplinary process, involving counseling, verbal or written warnings, probation, or suspension.

For major misconduct, it is crucial to adhere to due process, even when the grounds for dismissal seem reasonable. Documenting each step to mitigate the risk of an unfair dismissal claim.

1. Show Cause Letter

In crafting a show cause letter, it is essential to objectively outline the misconduct and policy violation while providing a reasonable timeline for the employee to respond. It's advisable to steer clear of accusatory language and consider legal review before dispatching the letter. If the employee's explanation proves satisfactory, no punishment is imposed; however, if found unsatisfactory, the employer proceeds to issue a notice of a domestic inquiry.

2. Domestic Inquiry

In commencing a domestic inquiry, the initial step involves the appointment of an impartial panel comprising senior employees and managers. These individuals must be unrelated to the involved parties and possess no prior knowledge of the charges against the employee. Their decisions should be based solely on the evidence presented during the hearing, underscoring a commitment to an unbiased process. The utmost importance is placed on maintaining confidentiality, emphasizing the selection of panel members who won't leak information to uninvolved parties.

The accused employee should receive necessary information and assistance, including a notice specifying charges, ample preparation time, and supervised access to documents or witnesses.

The domestic inquiry, structured like a court proceeding, allows both prosecution and defense to present their cases, with recording recommended for future evidence. If the panel members determine the employee to be guilty of the misconduct, the company must then decide on the appropriate punishment, which may involve immediate termination without notice and forfeiture of unused annual leave.

It is important to take into consideration before punishing an employee for misconduct to avoid any potential unfairness or hasty decisions. Factors such as past records, performance indicators, years of service, general behavior, and level of seniority. These are mitigating factors that warrant consideration before taking disciplinary action against an employee.



1. What if the employee refuses to respond to the show cause letter?

Employers should have a witness accompany them during delivery or use courier services to the employee's residence, obtaining a receipt as proof. Ensure the show cause letter addresses the scenario where the employee doesn't respond within the specified time, allowing for disciplinary action under the assumption of no explanation.

2. Can the employee be placed under suspension?

Certainly, the employer can suspend the employee if their presence might hinder the process, such as tampering with evidence or intimidating witnesses, as stated in Section 14 (2) of the Employment Act 1955. The employee can be placed on a 14-day suspension with half pay. If the suspension is extended beyond this period, the employee will receive full pay. In the event of a not-guilty verdict, the 14 days deducted during the initial suspension must be fully reinstated.


Feel free to reach out to our team 📞+603 7887 9889 or 📩 if you need guidance on addressing misconduct or require advice on handling disciplinary matters.


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