What Does Being Fired for Gross Misconduct Mean?



Being fired for gross misconduct can only be justified by an act so serious that it merits instant dismissal. Gross misconduct charges must be so egregious that they destroy the relationship of trust and confidence between employer and employee. They must rise to a level that makes a working relationship impossible and summary dismissal the only option.


But what exactly is termination for gross misconduct and what are some common examples? Let’s break it down.


What Is Gross Misconduct?

Any number of serious offenses committed at work may constitute gross misconduct. In general, behavior that is unprofessional and unethical; destructive to the company’s brand, reputation, or finances; or that falls well short of acceptable standards in the workplace can be deemed gross misconduct.


Employee tardiness is not something that constitutes gross misconduct. Nor do the failure to complete work-related tasks on time, the failure to follow instructions, or the poor execution of a task. These may be instances of laziness, disorganization, and incompetence, but they are not gross misconduct.


Proportion, irreversibility, and premeditation are some of the features that distinguish gross misconduct from minor misconduct. In most cases, the frequent tardiness of an employee will not significantly affect the company’s ability to operate. A shoddy piece of work can usually be redone. The errant or incomplete execution of a task can in most instances be corrected.


But if employee carelessness or error significantly impacts the company’s bottom line and is irreversible, it may be categorized as gross misconduct. So may a wrongful or damaging act that was deliberately done.


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What Are Gross Misconduct Examples?

No list of gross misconduct can be exhaustive. Each organization has its own standards and expectations. However, these are some of the most common acts of gross misconduct, and they all give the employer sufficient grounds to dismiss the employee.


1. Theft, Fraud, and Dishonesty

These types of acts can cost the company enormous amounts of money. They can disrupt the workplace and drag down productivity. They can also damage the company brand and strain relationships with existing clients.


2. Offensive Behavior

The human resources department in nearly all companies lays out the standards of conduct in the employee handbook. Most such documents include prohibitions against sexual harassment, racial, ethnic, religious, and other types of discrimination, and personal mistreatment.


An employee who harasses, bullies, assaults, or uses racist or racially charged language against a worker or customer will be in breach of these rules and may be dismissed for gross misconduct.


This category includes the following behaviors:

  • Harassment

  • Bullying

  • Fighting

  • Intimidating behavior

  • Violence and threats of violence

  • Dangerous horseplay

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3. Breach of Health and Safety Rules

When an employee breaches health and safety rules, it can put others at risk. It can also be a serious liability to the company. A business involved in hazardous work must be strict about enforcing these rules. Some typical examples of health and safety rule breaches include:

  • Refusal to wear PPE

  • Removal of machinery guards

  • Dangerous driving on the work site

4. Damage to Property

Intentionally damaging company property or doing so through gross negligence or incompetence can result in substantial monetary loss. This constitutes a good reason to fire an employee for gross misconduct.


5. Intoxication at Work

Whether an employee comes to work under the influence of alcohol or drugs or they are caught drinking or doing drugs in the workplace, such behavior rises to the level of gross misconduct.


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Can You Fire Someone for Gross Misconduct?

Yes, you can. However, it is important to be fair and impartial in how you do it. Being fired for gross misconduct can significantly impact an employee’s future career prospects. Getting a job after being fired for gross misconduct can be tough. Here are some tips to limit the risk of litigation for unfair dismissal:


1. Carry Out an Investigation

Your human resources department will usually be involved in this. The investigative team should be composed of people who do not know or work with the subject of the inquiry. It is important to keep it as impartial as possible. In fact, some companies hire outside consultants to do this type of investigation. This is often necessary when the person is a member of upper management.


2. Ensure Complete Access and the Gathering of All the Facts

The investigation team should have access to all documents, surveillance video, and electronic devices and accounts owned and controlled by the company. There should be no attempt to prejudice or distort the inquiry by limiting access to information that is relevant to it. You must also ensure that the personal information of everyone involved in the investigation is protected.


The investigation should also include facts that may be favorable toward the accused person or even exonerate them.


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3. Ensure a Right to Reply

The employee charged with gross misconduct should have a chance to see the evidence against them and reply to it. Holding a tribunal of some sort is the best way to be fair. This tribunal will determine whether the employee’s responses to the misconduct charges fall within a band of reasonable responses.


If you are on the other end of this process and are the one fired for gross misconduct, going to the Department of Labor website will provide you with important information, including information about unemployment benefits.


Can you be rehired after being fired for gross misconduct? Probably not with the same company. And although finding a job after being fired for gross misconduct will be difficult, it is not impossible.


Want to Keep Learning?

At Teamworks, we help companies all across the country make their human resources departments more efficient and effective, and we’ve developed a list of the best resources to help your company reach its potential.


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