Misconduct Versus Poor Performance

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It is important to know the difference between misconduct and poor performance. Confusing the two could mean your approach is completely wrong.

The main difference is in the level of control the employee has over their performance. Poor performance is when an employee tries as hard as possible but keeps falling short because they lack skill, ability or training for example. In cases of misconduct, the employee could perform better but for whatever reason deliberately chooses not to.


Often these employees are unaware they are not performing well and are unlikely to initiate change. Poor performance or underperformance usually shows as a failure to do the duties of the role or to meet the standard required because the employee lacks the required skill, knowledge or training, or because the employee does not know what is expected of them.

If you do not address underperformance early, it could become more serious and start to affect the productivity and performance of the whole business.


Misconduct is wilful and deliberate breach of company policy or procedure. Misconduct may potentially give grounds to an employer to take disciplinary action against an employee, up to and including dismissal.

General misconduct includes the following:

  • Non-compliance with workplace policies, rules or procedures
  • Unacceptable behaviour at work
  • Disruptive or negative behaviour that affects co-workers

General Misconduct usually reflects a disengaged, unmotivated employee whose behaviour may include the following:

  • Lateness
  • Poor presentation
  • Unexplained absences
  • Inappropriate behaviour towards other employees that affects their job

Misconduct can also be more serious behaviour and, at worst, is gross or Serious  Misconduct, which is when the employee deliberately and wilfully behaves a way that undermines their employment, and that can cause a serious and imminent risk to  someone’s health and safety or the reputation, viability or profitability of the business, for example:

  • Assault
  • Abusive behaviour such as bullying or harassment
  • Leaking confidential documents or information
  • Drinking or drug abuse at work
  • Corruption
  • Theft

Employsure can help you analyse employee performance, review misconduct, and implement performance management strategies or disciplinary processes.

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Have an employee you think has engaged in misconduct? Want to better understand your rights? We can give you free, initial advice.

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