Misconduct & Dishonesty

Differences between Poor Performance and Misconduct

There is a difference between misconduct (behaviour) and ability (performance), but it is worth summarizing the difference between the two because there is often confusion as to what is a performance problem and what is a behaviour problem.

This confusion may arise because the end result of an employee performing poorly or behaving badly is often the same - he or she may lose the job. However, although the result may be the same in each case, the two categories are different, and require different handling.


Misconduct or unacceptable behaviour occurs when a rule is broken, or an employee behaves in a manner which is unacceptable. For example, an employee who assaulted a supervisor, or who swore at a customer would be guilty of misconduct. This would  be true even if there wasn’t a specific rule in the company procedure forbidding this, because it must be obvious to every employee that this type of behaviour is not allowable in the work situation, i.e. you don’t assault people at the work place and you don’t abuse customers.

Another comparison may help. Consider the case of your star employee - She performs well, her rate of output is first class, quality is never a problem, but she is caught stealing. Is this performance or misconduct? The answer is clearly misconduct. She has broken the rules and may be liable for dismissal, even though her performance is excellent.

Similarly, the office clerk who is always up-to-date and accurate with his work, but who treats and talks to other staff members in a rude, abusive and racialist way, is behaving in an unacceptable manner which would be categorized as misconduct.

The breaking of a specific rule, such as, “no employee may clock in for another employee” or “no employee may smoke in the plant” would also be misconduct.

Unacceptable behaviour and misconduct usually results in us taking immediate disciplinary action against the employee, whilst poor performance will usually result in us counseling the employee before we take any action.

Poor performance is not always a result of the deliberate action of the employee. Obviously if the fault lies elsewhere, it is not a matter for discipline.

What is the same for both is that we have to follow a fair procedure before taking disciplinary/remedial action.

The procedure for handling performance problems is usually different from the procedure for handling problems of misconduct. Ensure that you know what the procedures are in your company!

The Test is simple:

1. Performance is about how the employee does the job and what output he or she achieves.

2. Misconduct is about the behaviour or conduct of the employee on the job in relation to the rules of the company. It is not about the performance of the employee or the output which he or she achieves on the job.

Use this simple test whenever you are not entirely sure whether the problem is one of misconduct or a matter of poor pro forma employee’s actions (or non action). An employee might not be to blame if he or she has sub-standard tools and equipment.