Addressing workplace misconduct is critical for ensuring a peaceful and comfortable work environment for every employee to be. Workplace misconduct includes actions that go against laws, policies and procedures. A healthy and productive work environment requires clear expectations, guidelines and a fair approach to addressing employee actions.

Types of misconduct

When addressing workplace misconduct, employers should understand its severity before they respond to it. It is important to distinguish between minor, major and severe offences when determining the appropriate level of disciplinary action. Examples of each type of offence include:

Minor misconduct

These can usually be addressed within the workplace through informal conversations with the employee or low-level disciplinary measures:

  • Tardiness or absenteeism
  • Inadequate job performance
  • Disruptive behaviour
  • Violation of minor policies or protocols

Employers should manage these issues early so they do not lead to something more serious.

Major misconduct

Major offences usually warrant more formal disciplinary action, such as written warnings or suspension:

  • Repeated minor offences
  • Harassment, discrimination, or bullying
  • Breach of confidentiality
  • Negligence or gross misconduct

These issues are harder to ignore and need to be addressed quickly t protect other employees.

Severe Offences

Severe offences often result in immediate suspension or termination of employment:

  • Theft or fraud
  • Workplace violence
  • Serious breaches of safety protocols or endangering others
  • Criminal activities

This is where an investigation is usually required to understand the severity of the situation and what action to take next. Addressing this type of misconduct usually requires external assistance.

Addressing minor misconduct

While there are many times when misconduct leads to an investigation, it is essential to know what to do when it is not significant enough for major action but still needs addressing. The usual steps include:

  • Informal conversations
  • Formal verbal warning
  • Written warning
  • Suspension
  • Dismissal

Informal conversations

The informal conversation step is an opportunity for a manager or supervisor to have an open and honest discussion with an employee regarding their behaviour or performance. This step is designed to resolve issues before they escalate into more serious matters. The conversation should be approached calmly and professionally, to find a solution that is agreeable to both parties. The tone should be strict but not accusatory and the employer should try to be empathetic and find out if something is wrong. 

 Health issues, including physical and mental, are usually one of the reasons for high employee absenteeism. In that case, the company may need to look inwards to understand why employees do not feel comfortable discussing a plan with their manager. Is it an individual problem or an organisational one?

 The employee needs to understand the severity of the situation and that the conversation is an opportunity for them to improve their behaviour or performance. The manager or supervisor should provide clear feedback and guidance on what is expected of the employee and outline any consequences if the issues are not addressed properly. 

 It is also crucial for the manager or supervisor to document the informal conversation and any agreed-upon actions or expectations. This documentation can be used as a reference in future discussions or as evidence if the matter escalates to a more formal disciplinary process. It will act as evidence to show that the company took action to handle early issues.


Formal verbal warning

A formal verbal warning is given when a manager or supervisor requests a meeting with the employee in question and makes clear that their behaviour or actions have been unacceptable. The employee will be informed of the specific details surrounding their misconduct and how it has impacted the organisation, its goals and its employees. A formal verbal warning is usually used for addressing repeated minor misconduct or misconduct of slightly higher severity.

The tone of this meeting will be serious and professional, with the manager or supervisor explaining the gravity of the situation and how the behaviour needs to change. The employee will be informed that a formal written warning could be the next step if improvements are not made.

It is essential that all aspects of the formal verbal warning are documented, including the date, time, location and attendees of the meeting, as well as the details of the issue and any potential consequences if improvements are not made. This is important for transparency and accountability purposes and can be used as evidence if necessary.

It is also crucial to note that the formal verbal warning should not come as a surprise to the employee. Proper communication, feedback and training should have been provided beforehand to try and resolve the issue. As such, the formal verbal warning should be seen as a middle ground, rather than a knee-jerk reaction.

Written warning

This step usually occurs when the employee has not been successful in addressing minor misconduct and the previous steps have not worked.

It serves as a formal notice to an employee that their behaviour, conduct or performance has fallen short of the expected standards and demands and requires immediate improvement.

During this stage, the employer must clearly and accurately document the issues at hand, provide evidence of the employee’s actions and outline the potential consequences should the employee fail to rectify their behaviour. The written warning should also state what improvement is expected, the deadline for meeting the demands and the support and resources that are available to help the employee achieve the desired outcome.

In addition to providing a clear record of the situation, the written warning stage also allows the employee an opportunity to respond to the allegations and provide further information or evidence to support their position. This conversation can highlight underlying factors that may be contributing to the employee’s poor performance or behaviour, which need to be addressed to prevent similar issues in the future.

It is important to note that a written warning is not a disciplinary action in itself but rather a formal warning that the employee is at risk of disciplinary action if their behaviour or performance does not improve. As such, it is critical that employers follow the correct procedures and apply the warning consistently and fairly to avoid claims of unfair treatment or discrimination.


When addressing minor misconduct, there may come a point when the employee in question is suspended from work. This step is taken to protect the interests of the business, its employees and customers. Sometimes this is done when conducting an investigation and the suspension may be temporary depending on the outcome. Suspensions are usually used as a way to ensure a fair and thorough investigation can take place.

During the suspension, the employee will typically be informed of the reasons for their suspension and the expected duration of the suspension. They may also be required to hand over any company property, such as keys or laptops and be prohibited from entering the workplace or contacting colleagues.

It is important to note that an employee on suspension is still entitled to certain rights, including any contractual entitlements and the right to appeal against the suspension. Employers should ensure that they follow the relevant policies and procedures and provide appropriate support and guidance to the employee during this time.


The dismissal step is the most severe one that is used for addressing misconduct that has escalated. It is generally the last resort when all other forms of disciplinary action have failed or are deemed inappropriate for the situation at hand.

In order to dismiss an employee, certain legal and procedural requirements must be met. These will vary depending on the country and specific laws that apply. However, in general, employers must follow a fair and objective process that includes providing the employee with an opportunity to respond to allegations and conducting a formal hearing if necessary. Again in this step, an investigation may be needed to figure out if the employee is really at fault.

If the decision is taken to dismiss the employee, the employer must inform them in writing, outlining the reasons for the dismissal and any evidence that was considered. The employee must also be given the right to appeal the decision within a specified timeframe.

Dismissal can have serious consequences for the employee, including loss of income and difficulty finding new employment. Therefore, it is important that employers only use this as the last available step and ensure that the process followed is fair and objective. Failure to do so may result in an unfair dismissal case.

Please remember

Addressing minor misconduct can be tricky as businesses need to differentiate what separates each layer of offences. When does a minor offence become a serious offence? Those are some questions that have to be considered before taking action. Addressing misconduct quickly ensures better results and avoids business operation disruptions.

To achieve better outcomes, our customers use Polonious to manage each employee case. Polonious offers a single point of truth for all misconduct cases, with a fully audit logged trail of all activities so that you can justify your decisions if they are ever questioned. We provide our clients with a secure place to upload different types of files that can be addressed only by those involved in the case.

Our system also provides red flags if key errors have been detected which warns employers if key performance indicators have not been met. Polonious increases the overall process efficiency by helping companies save time since everything is easily accessible from one place, anywhere, anytime. Do you want to see how our system works? Request a demo!