There are certain behaviours at work, such as gross misconduct, that are deemed unacceptable and can lead to disciplinary action being taken against an employee. While there are examples of gross misconduct that extend among all industries, some companies may have their own definitions as well.

Gross misconduct vs misconduct: The difference

First, we need to understand the difference between misconduct and gross misconduct. Misconduct refers to behaviour that goes against the expected standards of an organisation or the terms of an employee’s contract. This can include being consistently late, not following health and safety regulations or constantly completing work at a lower quality.

Gross misconduct, on the other hand, refers to behaviour that is considered particularly serious and that can lead to immediate termination of employment. This is because many times the behaviour can affect other employees or even cause harm to them or the business.

Employers are usually expected to have a clear policy that outlines the types of behaviour that will be considered misconduct or gross misconduct, as well as the consequences that could follow. This policy should also outline the process that will be followed if disciplinary action needs to be taken, including any appeals processes that may be available.

Examples of gross misconduct

It is very important to note that anyone can commit gross misconduct. Employees of all levels and even CEOs can be found guilty of any of these examples. What kind of behaviours count as gross misconduct and in what way can they cause harm? Here are some common types: 

  • Theft of fraud
  • Violence and/or bullying
  • Harassment
  • Sexual harassment
  • Discrimination
  • Health and safety breaches
  • Alcohol and drugs

Theft and fraud

These types of misconduct involve stealing company property, falsifying documents or engaging in fraudulent activities. Asset misappropriation, embezzlement, credit card fraud and data theft all fall under this category. These activities can hinder business income, increase costs and may be hard to detect. 

Violence and/or bullying

Any form of physical assault, intimidation, or threatening behaviour directed towards colleagues or customers is considered gross misconduct. As technology makes its way into the workplace, bullying has also moved online. Online bullying towards colleagues over social media or emails still counts as gross misconduct and should be dealt with accordingly. 


Harassment includes verbal abuse and unwanted sexual advances towards other employees. Harassment can be described as unreasonable behaviour, often hostile, towards others. It can occur on purpose or unintentionally, as some people may not recognise that their behaviour is hurting others. However, that does not make it less harmful. 

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is a special category under harassment that includes unwanted sexual advances, inappropriate jokes, explicit images or videos, unwanted physical touch and suggestive comments. While women are most of the time the victims of sexual harassment it is important to not get affected by double standards and understand that it could happen to anyone. 


Behaving in a discriminatory manner towards colleagues or clients, based on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion or other protected characteristics is gross misconduct. This can include being cold to customers, alienating colleagues or excluding them from events, giving them worse performance reviews unfairly and not treating employees equally when it comes to promotions. 

Health and safety breaches

This is a serious type of misconduct as it could lead to death. About 2 million people die from work-related tasks every year around the world. In Australia, between 2021 and 2022, around 500,000 employees received work-related injuries or illnesses, many of which could have been prevented. Work health and safety breaches could include skipping mandatory training, not attending to workplace spills, broken parts or sharp edges or not providing employees with the right desk equipment. It could be something as simple as not providing them with a supportive chair. 

Alcohol or drugs

Being unable to perform work duties due to alcohol or illegal drug use is considered gross misconduct. While laws for drugs and alcohol differ throughout the world, in most cases, selling or using drugs during work hours is strictly prohibited. Even possessing drugs at work could be deemed illegal. While the workplace cannot control what employees do for recreation outside work hours, it is important to follow workplace policies and be aware of the job’s stance on alcohol and drugs. In some cases alcohol may be permitted, especially during work events.

Responding to a gross misconduct incident

Employers and managers have a responsibility to take a report of gross misconduct seriously. This means that they need to gather more information, keep an open mind and take steps to understand what happened rather than dismiss the report. In the majority of cases, gross misconduct incidents will need to be resolved with an investigation as they carry a lot of severity.

The quicker the response, the more likely it is for the issue to be resolved with minimal impact. Our clients recognise the importance of fast and effective investigation, which is why they choose Polonious to support them during the whole process. Our system provides them with a confidential storage space and our workflows assist them in saving up to 38% administrative time.

Before starting an investigation, the right individual should be chosen and an investigation plan will need to be set out. The budget, timelines and parties involved will need to be determined and the company should stress the importance of the investigation. It shows employees that their organisation will look into reports of misconduct and they are willing to hear all individuals before making a decision.

Based on the findings of the investigation, the business can choose whether disciplinary action is needed and what type is the most appropriate for that specific scenario. A disciplinary hearing may also be necessary. After the conclusion of the investigation has been shared with all employees, they may have the right to appeal the decision.

How to avoid gross misconduct

As is clear, gross misconduct is harmful in a number of ways:

  • It’s expensive
  • Time-consuming
  • Could damage physical and mental health and
  • Could create a hostile work environment

These are only a few of the consequences that businesses may need to deal with. Therefore, it is crucial that gross misconduct is prevented. To prevent gross misconduct in the workplace, employers should:

Build trust

Building trust with employees takes time. However, it can lead to more staff coming forward with complaints or reporting misconduct. While training is really important for employees to recognise suspicious activity, building trust so they can share their observations is what will benefit the company in the long run. Sending out anonymous surveys for staff to fill out, checking in with employees individually and mentioning how the team welcomes and is open to complaints at the start of team meetings every now and then can make staff realise that they will be taken seriously. 

If people see how open employees are with problems at work, then they will know they are likely to get caught and repercussions will follow. This makes them less likely to commit gross misconduct. 

Anti-fraud controls

Having robust anti-fraud controls can go a long way in preventing a lot of types of misconduct. Strong fraud controls such as a code of conduct, auditing financial statements and restricting who has access to company funds can assist in deterring people from committing fraud. Delegating sensitive tasks such as payments, data storage and balance checks can also help as along with auditing, it can detect fraud early, giving the business enough time to recover funds if needed. 

Follow laws and regulations

 Managers and employees should receive mandatory training around creating a safe workplace, new updates to laws and regulations and machinery use. This will keep everyone up to date with the latest developments and ensure that everyone knows what to do in case of an incident. It will give employees clear instructions on how to use equipment which will reduce the chance of harm.

Managers need to understand the importance of removing hazards from the working environment and laws usually become stricter to protect employees from fatal accidents or long-term conditions. Complaining or refusing to follow laws and regulations due to costs does not create a safe workplace where employee health and well-being are prioritised. 

Please remember

As gross misconduct is the most severe type of misconduct, it can be easy to jump to conclusions and make a decision. However, it is important to take the time to listen to the employee, understand what happened and if the incident they are accused of is really their doing. While some incidents may be recorded on CCTV cameras, others such as wrong numbers being recorded, could be an accident due to a misunderstanding or confusion. Encourage employees to ask questions to avoid unintentional illegal activity. It is also advised to take a moment and think about what gross misconduct can look like in your business and update company policies to reflect that.

At Polonious we want to make investigations into gross misconduct as quick and painless as possible. After our clients have chosen their investigation team, they rely on us to help them make the process more efficient and save them costs. We help investigators store their evidence confidentially, conduct online interviews and send them case reminders and updates. We restrict access to only those involved in the case to avoid information leaking. If you want to know more, reach out! We will be happy to show you the benefits our system offers.