Despite high-profile cases and an ongoing push in Australia for policies and training aimed at decreasing cases of employee misconduct, cases continue to pile up in the courts and the media.
What Constitutes Employee Misconduct?
You will often see in an HR policy or an employment contract quite a few examples of what could amount to misconduct. The usual suspects are things like:
- Sexual harassment
- Refusing to follow instructions
- Breach of policy
And the list goes on. The fact is that it’s impossible to come up with all the kinds of misconduct that can occur. What we can do however, is to look at a general process for dealing with misconduct. This article outlines 5 key aspects of the role that HR individuals/teams play in properly responding to employee misconduct:
1. The Importance of a Thorough Investigation
When it comes to handling employee misconduct, HR (internal or external to the organisation) often takes on the responsibility of impartially investigating allegations. Whether it’s a violation of company policies, including serious matters like harassment, HR conducts investigations by gathering evidence, interviewing relevant parties and ensuring a fair and unbiased process.
2. Deciding What Disciplinary Action to Take
Once the investigation is completed and in compliance with the Australian Fair Work Act 2009, HR professionals should ensure that the decision making process around what, if any action, should be taken adheres to procedural fairness. This involves formally meeting with the employee accused of misconduct to give them a clear picture of what is alleged and a fair opportunity to present their side of the story. Taking account of the investigation outcome and the disciplinary meeting, HR should then work with managers to decide what, if any, disciplinary action is appropriate. This can range from counselling and written warnings to more severe measures up to and including termination of employment.
3. Effective Communication
A workplace characterised by transparent and open communication is essential. HR serves as a mediator, ensuring that the parties involved in a misconduct case have their voices heard. Clarity is key, and HR should ensure that the expectations, processes, and potential consequences are communicated to the employees involved.
4. Adherence to Policies
HR professionals are the authors and custodians of workplace policies, ensuring that all actions are in line with the latest employment related legislation (e.g. such as the Fair Work Act) and company policies & procedures. Consistency is vital, and HR must ensure that similar cases are treated uniformly, mitigating the risk of being perceived as bias or unfair.
Australian workplaces should have a defined Code of Conduct, and HR plays a pivotal role in upholding these standards. Whether it involves breaches of confidentiality, bullying, or other unethical behaviour, HR should ensure that the workplace’s values are upheld. Regular Appropriate Workplace Behaviour training for all employees conducted by an experienced HR professional is firmly recommended.
5. Learning and Improvement
Every misconduct case serves as an opportunity for the workplace to learn and enhance its practices. HR teams/professionals should conduct post-case reviews to identify areas where policies or procedures can be strengthened. Continuous improvement is a priority, with HR ensuring that the workplace is better equipped to handle similar situations in the future.
In conclusion, HR’s role in handling employee misconduct goes beyond the enforcement of policies and procedures – it should always involve fostering a workplace culture where employees are treated fairly, communication is transparent, and everyone is afforded due process. Last but not least, it’s important that all HR/organisational leaders and professionals use every single incident as an opportunity to learn and improve, so collectively, we can create fairer workplaces for all Australians.
Employee Matters: Your Outsourced In-House HR Team
Since 2011, we have helped organisations with their HR needs, including Appropriate Workplace Behaviour Training, development of policies, and employee misconduct investigations. Partnering with Employee Matters gives you access to experienced HR and Recruitment Experts who can help you maximise employee engagement, satisfaction and retention, all hallmarks of the most productive and profitable businesses. Book a free call now to find out more about how we can help your business.
Being general information pertaining to the field of human resources management, the information in this article does not constitute specific legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Employee Matters is not a legal firm and does not purport to give legal advice. We will happily provide you with general legal information on employment related topics and if we feel you need specific legal advice, we will inform you of this and can refer you to independent specialist employment law firms, as necessary.