HR Glossary

What is Gross Misconduct?

Gross misconduct is one of the reasons why companies must have employee handbooks that clearly distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate behavior and outline the repercussions in the event of misconduct.
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Every company has its rules of how employees should behave and disciplinary action procedures that help companies manage conflict situations in the workplace. However, an employer is in a position to immediately terminate employees without previous notice in cases of severe misconduct, also known as gross misconduct.

What is Gross Misconduct?

Gross misconduct is severe behavior that is deliberate, unprofessional, unethical, or illegal. It goes against all standards of conduct set out in the company. Often it entails that it is not safe or appropriate for the employee to remain in the workplace. 

The profound implications of such behavior immediately break the trust between the employer and the employee. This leads to disciplinary actions up to immediate summary dismissal of the worker without notice or pay in lieu (PILON).

What is Gross Misconduct in the Workplace?

Every business defines what it regards as gross misconduct in the workplace. But generally, it includes serious acts that threaten the safety of the workforce and the company’s reputation. 

The organization must define guidelines and consequences for gross misconduct in an employee handbook or employment contract. In this way, the business protects itself if it must dismiss a worker.  

Additionally, putting it in writing enhances transparency and awareness of what is expected of employees and what type of conduct can have serious repercussions.

The Difference Between Misconduct and Gross Misconduct

The difference between misconduct and gross misconduct lies in the intensity of the act and its effect on the company.  

Typically, misconduct includes unacceptable minor offenses that might require disciplinary actions but are not as acute as to result in immediate termination. Some examples of misconduct include: 

  • Submitting incomplete work 
  • Being rude to colleagues or customers 
  • Taking sick days when not actually sick 
  • Not following instructions properly 
  • Using work resources for personal benefit 
  • Being frequently absent from work 

On the other hand, acts of gross misconduct are deliberate or amount to gross negligence and cause real damage to the business. Examples of gross misconduct in the workplace are: 

  • Committing theft or fraud 
  • Showing up intoxicated at work 
  • Being violent in the workplace 
  • Harassing coworkers or customers 
  • Being discriminatory  
  • Causing damage in the workplace

Types of Gross Misconduct at Work

What acts of behavior in the workplace or outside of it the company regards as misconduct depends on the type of business and the accepted standards in that industry. For instance, in some sectors using foul language might not be considered misconduct worthy of taking disciplinary action.  

That is why companies must have employee handbooks that clearly distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate behavior and outline the repercussions in the event of misconduct. 

Misconduct happens when an employee misbehaves. Depending on the severity of the actions and their effects on the business, some demeanors won’t warrant immediate termination 

However, even such acts can become gross misconduct if they continue happening over time, especially after receiving warnings, and if the employer believes that the employee deliberately behaves that way.  

For instance, a company might regard tardiness or inappropriate clothing as policy breaches. But they are mild misconducts wherein the employer will informally warn the employee about breaking the rules or raise a formal disciplinary procedure. 

However, if the worker doesn’t show any signs of correcting their behavior and continues deliberately breaking the company’s policy, such a manner can warrant immediate termination.

Examples of Gross Misconduct in the Workplace

The lines between misconduct and gross misconduct in the workplace can be pretty blurry. That is why every company needs to have a well-defined protocol for differentiating between them and categorizing certain behaviors. 

Nevertheless, some types of employee misconduct are pretty grave and damaging to the business that they almost always count as gross misconduct. 

  • Theft, fraud, or dishonesty 

This misconduct can incur huge losses for employers and damage their relationships with employees and clients. It includes examples such as: 

    • Stealing cash 
    • Taking office supplies 
    • Falsely claiming expenses 
    • Falsifying documents 
    • Gaining from espionage 
  • Violent or rude behavior 

Acts of violence or offensive behavior can happen between coworkers, employees and customers, workers and management, or employees and people who come to the work site. Examples of this type of misconduct involve: 

    • Physical assault 
    • Bullying 
    • Sexual harassment 
    • Aggressive or intimidating behavior 
    • Threats of violence 
    • Dangerous misbehavior  
    • Discrimination 
  • Violation of health and safety rules 

All employees are responsible for maintaining the safety and health of others in the workplace. Failure to do so by acting in the following manners can present a significant liability for workers. 

    • Refusing to wear protective equipment 
    • Removing equipment safeguards 
    • Handling dangerous chemicals without care 
    • Driving recklessly at the work site 
    • Failing to protect coworkers who are at greater risk, such as pregnant employees 
  • Damage to the business or the workplace 

Acts of misconduct that cost the company money, harm its reputation, or destroy company property can result in legal action. These include, but are not limited to behaviors such as: 

    • Willful vandalism or destruction, such as arson or data breach 
    • Gross negligence that leads to damage, such as improper storage of resources or leaving equipment unsupervised 
  • Acts of misconduct because of alcohol or drugs 

Being under the influence can put employees and the rest of the staff at risk of accidents or make workers less productive and effective at their jobs. Offenses related to alcohol and drugs include examples such as: 

    • Being incapable of working due to intoxication or drug use 
    • Holding or taking drugs while in the workplace 
    • Buying or selling drugs on the premises

Preventing Gross Misconduct Disputes

According to a study, US businesses lose about $20 billion yearly because of misconduct in the workplace. Companies should encourage employees’ ethical conduct at work to avoid significant losses because of misbehavior. 

The most crucial step is to be proactive. According to the previously mentioned study, establishing anti-fraud controls can reduce the loss due to ethics violations by two times.  

Additionally, it is vital to have a comprehensive employee handbook that will put the policies and rules in writing and prevent employees from claiming ignorance of behavior stated in the handbook.  

Training for managers and leaders who will effectively supervise and monitor their teams is another great tool in preventing misconduct. Moreover, the whole workforce could also benefit from ethics training and refresher courses on skills that can help them avoid conflict situations. 

Moreover, businesses can hinder transgressions even before employees join the workforce by being prudent when hiring people. Checking credentials and references can help management safeguard the company from bad hires. 

Lastly, in case of a misconduct dispute, companies should ensure they are legally covered in such cases by documenting an employee’s behavior and performance and everything that has been done to deal with the issue. Such documentation can come in handy to support an employer’s decision.

Benefits of Having Gross Misconduct Guide for Employees

Defining what acts of behavior will be treated as gross misconduct in a company has many benefits.  

Firstly, providing guidelines for misconduct in the organization sets clear boundaries for adequate and inadequate demeanors. Defining transgressions and their consequences introduce a standard that employees should follow. Likewise, it holds them accountable for their manners by ensuring fair and consistent disciplinary actions in cases of misdemeanor. 

Secondly, the organization can protect itself from potential legal liability by having a clear policy. Also, it shows that the company takes and addresses misconduct seriously but reasonably. 

Finally, defining misconduct and setting clear guidelines help create a positive working environment by promoting accountability and respect for the company’s rules and policies.

Managing Gross Misconduct Incidents

Dealing with gross misconduct is an unpleasant experience but requires a lot of care and rule-following. It is essential to follow a fair procedure to protect the company from any legal actions that the employee can take against it. 

Usually, there are four steps an employer should take to ensure transparency and adherence to legislation. 


When an employee is suspected of gross misconduct, the employer should first decide whether or not to suspend them. A good reason to do so is if the worker poses a risk to the business, themselves, and others, if they can influence a witness or if they could try and hide evidence against them when they stay at work. 

If the employee doesn’t get a suspension, then the employer has to go through a risk assessment to show there is no harm in letting them remain at work.  

But, if they get suspended, it must be made clear that a suspension is not a sanction but a way to protect everyone in the company and get enough time to collect evidence on the case. 

2. Investigation 

The next step should be investigating and finding proof of the employee’s misconduct or lack thereof. The investigator must keep an open mind during the process and properly collect and store the facts. 

If the worker is guilty of gross misconduct, the following step is to invite them to a disciplinary hearing. The employee should receive the invitation in written form, detailing the allegations against them. 

Make sure that the worker knows they can have a trade union or a colleague representing them and explain to them if they have other rights depending on their employment contract. 

3. Disciplinary Hearing 

The employer presents the case against the employee at the hearing, outlining the allegations and the collected evidence.  

The employee should have access to the evidence to ensure transparency. It is also advisable to have a chairperson and someone to take notes so the process can be included in the records. 

Once all is exhibited, the meeting is adjourned while the employer considers all the facts and makes a final decision. 

4. Final Decision 

Typically, the repercussions of gross misconduct are a final written warning, demotion, or dismissal.  

Suppose the employer decides to terminate the employee immediately. In that case, they have to make sure that the severity of the misconduct warrants immediate dismissal and that the decision is fair and reasonable in accordance with the circumstances.

Gross Misconduct Termination

Based on the investigation, severe behavior can result in gross misconduct termination, wherein the employer can immediately fire the worker. In this case, employees should receive a letter of termination explaining the reasons for their dismissal and any other entitlements or payments they should receive.

Gross Misconduct & Unemployment

When workers get fired or laid off, they can apply for unemployment and COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) benefits. If their application is approved, the business gets a tax increase on their payroll taxes to cover the benefits. 

However, in cases of gross misconduct, organizations can appeal the unemployment claim since, according to the Department of Labor and COBRA employer policy, only employees who are not responsible for losing their jobs can receive unemployment benefits 

Therefore, getting benefits when fired because of gross misconduct under COBRA is not possible.

Gross Misconduct & Wrongful Dismissal

If the employee believes they have been wrongfully dismissed and are innocent of the allegation made against them, they can make a wrongful dismissal claim. 

In this case, an employment tribunal will investigate whether the company’s decision for termination was reasonable based on the evidence for the case. 

The tribunal will consider many factors to decide whether the decision was fair, such as whether the gross misconduct was set out in the employee handbook, whether the company considered the mitigating factors, whether the organization is consistent with this decision in similar cases, and many others. 

Additionally, they will check if the procedure followed all the required steps. 

To prepare for a tribunal, the employer should keep records of everything connected with the employee and the case, like employment contracts, a copy of the invitation letter, notes of the disciplinary hearing, and other necessary documents.

On a Final Note 

Unlike general misconduct, gross misconduct is regarded as far more severe, and as such, it can justify an employer’s decision to terminate an employee charged with such behavior immediately. 

To avoid such situations, it is crucial that all acceptable and unacceptable behavior is outlined in an employee handbook and that workers are aware of them.

Written by shortlister editorial team

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