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Misconduct vs. Poor Performance

Published December 7, 2017 (last updated on May 14, 2024) | Adam Wyatt - Copywriter and Content Creator

Often employers will get confused between misconduct and poor performance. While certain behaviour might appear to exhibit signs of misconduct, these clues are not always clear and it is up to the employer to find out the true cause of the problem. Failure to distinguish between misconduct and poor performance can lead to taking the wrong approach.

What is Poor Performance?

Poor performance or underperformance is when an employee is not meeting the standards and expectations of their role in the company. Many cases of poor performance are unintentional. Sometimes an employee will be unaware they are underperforming and won’t change unless they are told otherwise.

Poor performance often appears as:

  • Inability to fulfil the standards and expectations of their role

  • Failing to ensure work is completed within a required timeframe

  • Repeated errors in work

The most common reasons for underperformance include:

  • Misunderstanding of standards and expectations for the job

  • Not enough training or support

  • Personal reasons or sickness

  • Work-related stress

  • Workplace bullying

  • Low morale or job satisfaction

What is Misconduct?

Misconduct is behaviour in the workplace which is unacceptable and breaks the rules, policies and procedures of a company.

Common examples of misconduct include:

  • Repeated lateness

  • Poor personal presentation

  • Behaving inappropriately towards other employees

  • Misuse of company computers and personal social media accounts

  • Making threatening and abusive statements or gestures

  • Drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace

  • Theft

  • Corruption

Misconduct vs Poor Performance – Identifying the Difference

It can be hard to tell the difference between misconduct and poor performance at first. However, the differences are actually quite simple.

The reality is misconduct has more to do with a person’s behaviour, while poor performance involves a person’s ability to do their job. An employee who is good at their job can still take part in misconduct. For example, swearing at a customer or bullying another employee.

To establish whether a situation involves misconduct or poor performance, ask the following questions in relation to the employee’s role in the company:

  • Is the quality of work acceptable?

  • Are they putting in enough effort to complete the job?

  • Is it a form of negligence, “I don’t care”, as opposed to intentional misconduct?

If the answer is ‘no’ to any of these questions, it could be a performance issue and should be handled as such according to the guidelines in the employee handbook and employment agreement.

In regards to misconduct, refer to the list of unacceptable behaviour in the employee handbook to decide if their actions fall under misconduct. Each company handbook should have its own list of unacceptable behaviour in regards to the company and the industry it is involved in. It should also clearly outline the standard disciplinary process for managing misconduct.

How to Manage Misconduct

Misconduct can be at two levels, being misconduct and serious misconduct, and should be managed accordingly. Most cases of misconduct lead to a verbal or written warning issued by the employer. These warnings clearly outline:

  • An explanation for why the warning was given

  • The standards and expectations of the company

  • What the employee must do to improve their behaviour

In the case of repeated misconduct, the employer must conduct a fair investigation and disciplinary process for each count of misconduct – whether the behaviour is the same or completely different.

Serious misconduct is any behaviour which destroys or undermines the relationship of trust and confidence between the employer and employee.  If an employee is found to have taken part in serious misconduct, they may receive a first and final warning or be immediately dismissed – but only according to employment law requirements.

How to Manage Poor Performance

Managing poor performance is not a form of discipline and should not make the employee feel like they have done something wrong.

Poor performance can be resolved in an informal or formal manner depending on the seriousness of the problem. Sometimes a bit of extra verbal feedback and mentoring is enough to resolve performance issues, while other cases require a more structured approach.

A performance improvement plan is an effective, long-term strategy that helps employees identify weak areas and get the help they need to improve their performance. By following this procedure with care and respect towards the employee’s individual needs, it is possible to resolve these issues and maintain a positive working relationship.

If this plan does not work, it may be necessary to allocate the employee to a different position or consider dismissal. This last option should only be considered if all other avenues have been exhausted.

For advice on managing misconduct vs poor performance in the workplace, contact Employsure on 0800 568 012.

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