Employment: How to Deal with Employee Misconduct

The best way to deal with employee misconduct is to prevent it. However, that's not always possible, even if you have implemented extensive measures to fight the root causes of employee behaviour problems. So how do you deal with actual incidents, as a line manager or as an HR representative?

When you become aware of an employee disregarding internal rules, the most important thing is to react quickly: Don't ignore problems, no matter how minor. They will very likely become worse if you wait. If this is a job for you, the HR person, or you, the manager, depends on the specific situation. Usually, it is a good idea if the manager tries to solve the problem on an informal level and HR gets involved if the problem persists.

1. Understand the problem and nip it in the bud. What has been the cause for the incident: Conduct or capability? Has the employee knowingly chosen to breach a rule or wasn't he able to uphold it, either because of special circumstances or because of personal inadequacies? Always try to approach the issue with a positive mind-set and assume good intentions until proven otherwise. Your first task is to help and support, not to condemn. Here's how:

  • Invite the employee to an interview: Give them a chance to explain the situation, the reasons why they didn't uphold the rule etc.
  • Try to find out if the rule itself is unclear (or unknown) to the employee. Maybe you as the employer need to improve the comprehensibility and / or the communication of your rules.
  • Offer help, support, encouragement, and training if it seems that the employee is lacking knowledge or a specific skill and therefore has broken the rule.
  • Agree with them on a concrete plan for improvement.
  • Document everything you agree with and give the employee a copy of your meeting minutes.
  • Set a date for a short review meeting where both of you can evaluate whether the problem has been overcome or if further steps are necessary.

2. If the problem persists, take formal action. Sometimes, a situation doesn't improve despite your efforts in step one - or the violation was so grave in the first place that it's not advisable to deal with it informally (e.g. someone was physically injured by a colleague).

In those cases, you need to initiate a formal process:

  • Collect and evaluate relevant information. Interview the employee and, if applicable, witnesses of the incident. Ask them to write down their statements and sign them.
  • Set the date for a formal hearing. Decide who the chair will be and who, besides the employee in question, should attend. Invite someone to take minutes. The employee should be given the right to choose a colleague or someone from your works council to accompany them to the meeting. All participants should receive a formal invitation to the meeting which includes not only the time and place but also a short summary of the incident.
  • If you are afraid that it would be damaging to the company if the employee stayed until the time of the hearing, you may want to consider a suspension. However, you should only suspend employees if you don't see any other way.
  • Prepare for the hearing: Define the goals of this meeting. Prepare questions that will help you achieve your goal. Try to anticipate possible answers and your reactions to them. Prepare possible consequences and decisions for all possible outcomes you can think of.
  • At the hearing, start with presenting the case. Support your points with evidence and witness accounts. Then give the employee and their companion an opportunity to reply to the allegations. Afterwards, adjourn the meeting.
  • When it comes to making a decision, weigh all the evidence and the statements of the employee and of witnesses. Once you have come to a decision, inform the employee in writing.

Dealing with internal conflicts and employee behaviour issues is never easy nor enjoyable. However, it's crucial that those situations are dealt with, swiftly and professionally. If you have a defined scenario in place that guides you through each single step, it will help you resolve conflicts more successfully and confidently.

If you would like to read more about the topic of how to deal with employee misconduct, then download the eBook The Seven Deadly Sins of Employment: How to Avoid the Most Common Mistakes Made By Employers by Russell HR Consulting. Also, have a look at our website where you'll find many more eBooks.