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Gross Misconduct: What It Is and How to Manage It

Gross Misconduct: What It Is and How to Manage It

As a pro in the HR world, a situation may arise where the question of gross misconduct comes into play. How do you handle it? Does the employee get suspended? Fired? Do you just give a stern warning? 

Let’s first begin by defining gross misconduct, then we will dive into some ways to handle it. 



What is Gross Misconduct? 

Gross misconduct is wrongful and unethical behavior conducted by an employee that is often premeditated and deliberate. When an employee commits an act of gross misconduct, suspension or termination can result, depending on the severity of the act. 


Examples of Gross Misconduct

There are a wide range of gross misconduct behaviors that can take place in the workplace. Some examples include:

  • Illegal drug or alcohol use 
  • Theft 
  • Sexual harassment 
  • Physical violence 
  • Vandalization or damage to property
  • Misuse of confidential information 
  • Discrimination or harassment 
  • Fraud 
  • A serious breach of health and safety regulations 
  • Serious insubordination 

This list is exhaustive, as there can be many other forms of gross misconduct, as well as different levels of severity for each. For instance, theft of a stapler wouldn’t be quite as serious as stealing $1,000 from the company. It is up to HR to determine the appropriate consequences based on the act and its severity. 


How to Manage a Situation Involving Gross Misconduct

Gross misconduct can be tricky to manage. The best method includes being proactive. In your Employee Handbook or Culture Guide, there should be explicit consequences listed for gross misconduct behaviors. While each specific act does not need to be spelled out in the document, a general understanding of how certain actions can beget certain consequences should be included to avoid any confusion or legal issues when facing the problem head-on. 

Make sure to consider the following questions when determining how to manage employee gross misconduct:

  1. How severe was the act? As we’ve discussed, there can certainly be different levels of severity. The act becomes more severe the bigger the risk to the organization or to themselves and/or other employees. 

  2. What degree of evidence exists? In certain cases, the act of gross misconduct could be verbalized by one individual, without any proof. It may be hard to take drastic measures in this particular scenario. In others; however, there could be many witnesses that come forward. In that case, ensure to document everything. You can do this through an HRIS software system like BerniePortal, using the Performance Management feature. 

  3. Should there be a disciplinary hearing? The ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) Code of Practice comprises standards for employers when dealing with disciplinary and grievance situations in the workplace. This guide can help you decide the proper method of handling various forms of gross misconduct.  

Hr's Guide To Culture Guides CTA


Gross Misconduct Termination

If the result of gross misconduct is to fire the employee, it’s critical that it’s handled properly to avoid an employment tribunal claim—a legal claim made by the employee, arguing unfair dismissal from the company. 

Prior to terminating an employee for gross misconduct, the situation must be investigated fully through a disciplinary hearing. According to The Legal 500, if the employer chooses to fire the accused employee, they must be able to demonstrate the following: 

  • They have treated the employee fairly and without discrimination
  • They have proved the employee’s guilt to their own satisfaction
  • They have fully investigated the gross misconduct in accordance with their disciplinary and grievance procedures, and in keeping with related legislation and good practice
  • Dismissal is a reasonable response to the act of gross misconduct
  • The employee was fully aware of what constituted gross misconduct and/or the employer had made this information easily available to the employee

Upon firing the employee for gross misconduct, a letter of termination should be written,  identifying the purpose for termination. This letter should also include any entitlements or payments owed to the employee.

For more advice on terminating an employee for gross misconduct (or any other reason) watch our HRPO1 video on Making the Hard Choices: How to Terminate an Employee



Additional HR Resources

You can stay informed, educated, and up-to-date with important HR topics using BerniePortal’s comprehensive resources:

  • BernieU—free online HR courses, approved for SHRM and HRCI recertification credits
  • Resource Library—tools, templates, and checklists on an extensive list of HR topics
  • BerniePortal Blog—a one-stop shop for HR industry news
  • HR Glossary—featuring the most common HR terms, acronyms, and compliance
  • HR Party of One—our popular YouTube series and podcast, covering emerging HR trends and enduring HR topics
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