Misconduct in the workplace can be detrimental to an organization and everyone involved. It is important that we know how to spot it and react appropriately-whether we're the perpetrator or the victim of such conduct. This article will explore what constitutes misconduct, common types of misconduct like discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, and more.
Misconduct can be classified in many different ways. Misconduct can often be unlawful and being a whistleblower in that situation can impact the organization in many ways. For our purposes, it is more beneficial to identify the types of misconduct that can occur in the workplace rather than trying to group them into categories. Here are examples of misconduct:
Theft - taking or using something that belongs to someone else without permission, often with an intent to deprive the owner permanently of its value or use (examples include stealing office supplies, company property)
Fraud - intentional misrepresentation or concealment of truth used for personal gain or to damage another individual (example includes charging personal expenses on a company credit card)
Sabotage - deliberate action aimed at harming an organization, its members, or its property (example includes purposely damaging company equipment)
Dishonesty - deliberately misleading or lying to an employer or coworker about a material fact that may influence issues related to job performance and/or decision making in the workplace. Lying is a form of misconduct that can have dire consequences if not handled properly. If you caught someone in a lie, keep your cool and don't jump the gun. You need to collect evidence first for it to be strong enough so they can't just create another story on the spot.
Discrimination - discriminating based on race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability (including HIV & AIDS), veteran status (including recently discharged veterans), or genetic information.
Harassment - any unwelcome conduct that is based on one or more of these characteristics and that is so severe or pervasive that it creates a hostile work environment.
Retaliation - negative action against an individual for filing a discrimination complaint.
Misconduct can be difficult to prove, especially if you're not sure whether it is intentional or not. This is why it's important that, as a witness to misconduct, you stay as calm as possible and gather evidence first before reporting the incident.
If you feel comfortable doing so, ask the person involved to stop. If they ignore your request or threaten you in any way, escalate the matter to a higher-level manager who has authority over them. It may help to make a note of exactly what happened and how it made you feel during and after the event. If all else fails, report the incident to your company's HR department.
First things first: don't go postal. Keep your cool and document everything that has happened. Seek help from a manager or HR if the misconduct becomes severe enough, but don't jump to conclusions too quickly.
It is important to know that all employment relationships are considered 'at will.' This means either of you, the employer, or the employee can terminate the relationship at any time for any reason with or without cause (proper notice). If you choose to take this route, make sure you have a paper trail documenting how it was handled first internally before filing a claim with a government agency like the EEOC.
In some cases, an individual's behavior may meet both legal and company standards for misconduct. In those situations, HR will look to your company's disciplinary policy for guidance on the appropriate action.
As a witness or victim of misconduct, you can help HR take the most effective step by providing a clear and thorough account of what happened at the moment (if possible) and after (how you've been affected). The more information HR has, the better equipped they are at making an accurate determination about what happened. You may also be asked how you would like to see the situation resolved. This is where it helps to have documentation on your side; after all, revenge is best served cold.
All this talk about misconduct in the workplace may sound like an HR issue, but it's much more than that. Misconduct can have serious consequences not just for employees and managers involved, but also for the organization as a whole. When misconduct isn't dealt with properly, it gives off the impression that you don't care about your people (or customers), which could negatively impact employee satisfaction and even retention rates. It can also lead to expensive litigation expenses if victims pursue legal action against you or your company.
The best way to avoid issues of misconduct is by making sure everyone who works for or does business with you knows what constitutes professional behavior in the workplace. This includes providing examples of misconduct and how to report it and conducting training programs that clarify the boundaries of acceptable behavior. It is also important to investigate claims as they arise so you can respond accordingly. Make sure those who file complaints are protected from retaliation and take their allegations seriously, regardless of the accused's position or influence level in your organization. One complaint does not have to mean it will happen again. But, the second you get another complaint, you need to react.
The company will get sued. That's a given. It might even help the claimant if you have a history of constant misconduct in the workplace or instances where management did not follow through with appropriate disciplinary action. If you do find yourself involved in a lawsuit, it will be up to your legal team to investigate further and build a strong defense against the plaintiff's claims while providing evidence that supports your side of the story following guidance from HR and/or upper management.
As a business owner or manager, you must ensure that your company's conduct policy prohibits all forms of discrimination and harassment. To protect yourself legally, take every complaint seriously and don't ignore them under any circumstances. Your company will thank you for it later.