HR · 4 October 2019

The employer’s guide to gross misconduct in the workplace

Gross misconduct

Business Advice recently teamed up with HR and employment law consultancy Peninsula to create a short series on various HR-related issues. This first article seeks to answer any questions SME employers might have on gross misconduct in the workplace.

Hadnt really thought about it? you’re not alone. Indeed, you likely think of gross misconduct as one of those itll never happen here? scenarios. In truth, however, any one of your employees at any time could behave in a manner that constitutes gross misconduct. it’s good to be prepared and know what actions are available to you, therefore, should such a situation arise.

Kate Palmer, associate director of advisory at Peninsula, added: “Employers have a duty to protect their staff from harm. So any individual who jeopardises this should receive the appropriate disciplinary actions. It’s important to remember that employees who participate in offensive behaviour may claim their actions were inoffensive.

despite this, you can still proceed with dismissal for gross misconduct, especially if these actions threaten the integrity of the organisation and stand to impact workplace morale negatively.”

What is gross misconduct?

Gross misconduct is when an employee commits an act that destroys the relationship of trust with you as the employer. Such acts must be serious enough to make it impossible to continue the working relationship. Gross misconduct therefore warrants dismissal without notice, or pay in lieu of notice, for a first offence as long as you follow a fair procedure.

Gross misconduct can include acts such as theft, physical violence, gross negligence and serious insubordination. These are different to acts of misconduct, examples of which might include persistent lateness or unauthorised absence from work.

How do you define misconduct as an employer?

Exact definitions of gross misconduct vary from company to company, depending on the culture. Yes, nearly all organisations will consider acts of physical violence, fraud or theft as gross misconduct. But using offensive language, for instance, will crop us much less frequently as an example in employee handbooks.

The employer's guide to gross misconduct in the workplace
Gross misconduct warrants summary dismissal as long as you follow a fair procedure.
While it’s important to provide specific examples of what your business considers gross misconduct, youll also find it useful to clarify that the examples given do not constitute an exhaustive list.

Examples of gross misconduct

Companies often cite theft, fraud, dishonesty, gross negligence and serious insubordination as clear examples of gross misconduct. Concrete examples of some of these might include stealing from colleagues, stealing company equipment, doctoring time sheets or fabricating expense claims. Other examples of gross misconduct might include:

Damage to property

This could involve deliberate or wilful damage to property or gross negligence resulting in substantial loss or damage to property.

Breaching health and safety rules

This could involve dangerous driving, consistently refusing to wear personal protective equipment or not following other procedural requirements.

Gross misconduct in the workplace
Consistently refusing to wear personal protective equipment could constitute gross misconduct.
Serious breaches of health and safety rules can cause companies acute reputational damage. And there is also significant liability for employers.

Excessive use of alcohol or drugs at work

This could involve serious incapacity due to drinking or taking drugs or the possession, consumption or selling of drugs in the workplace.

The vast majority of employers will have strict rules on drugs and alcohol, such as a total ban on employees arriving to work under the influence of either.

Offensive behaviour

This could involve bullying, harassment, intimidating behaviour, threats of violence or fighting.



Olly Goodall is an editor at Business Advice. He researches, creates and delivers diverse content types such as blogs, SlideShares, eGuides, interviews and more. Working with clients to tailor content to each target audience, he is involved throughout the creative process, from content brainstorming through to keyword research and content creation. With experience client side and agency side, he has written online and offline content for a range of sectors, including tech, education, transport and finance.

Work and Wellbeing