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Business Ethics

5 Types of Unethical Employee Misconduct in the Workplace


Feb 04, 2016

employee misconductDrew and Peter both work at company XYZ. They are friends outside of work and follow each other on social media. One day Drew notices that Peter posted details about a new widget the company was developing on his account.

Drew knows that information about the widget is supposed to be a secret, but he doesn’t necessarily think it’s wrong—Peter posted the information on his personal social media account, after all.

This may seem innocent enough, but did you know this is actually an example of employee misconduct? Even if you are already aware of this type of misconduct, are your employees?

Every employee plays a vital role in creating and maintaining an ethical workplace. They need to know how to make ethical decisions and behave appropriately. They also need to know how misconduct is defined and be aware of the different types of misconduct they might encounter—and it’s in your company’s best interest to teach them.

So as a refresher, we’ve put together a list of five different types of employee misconduct for you—and your employees—to be on the lookout for.

1. Discrimination

Speaking of discrimination, are your employees aware that it’s illegal to discriminate against an employee based on genetic information? For example, if Tracey gets tested and finds out she has the breast cancer gene, BRCA, her manager Mark can’t use that information to force her to change from a full-time schedule to a part-time schedule.

Employees need to be aware that any type of discrimination based on protected classes identified by the EEOC counts as employee misconduct.

2. Theft

One of the most severe types of employee misconduct is theft. An employee stealing money from a cash register is obviously theft, but it’s not the only kind. Other examples of theft include:

  • Doing work on a side-business while on the clock
  • Using a company vehicle for personal errands
  • Taking intellectual property like computer code
  • Padding an expense report with extra charges
  • Swiping company supplies like staplers to take home

Any time an employee takes something from the company that they shouldn’t, it’s a form of theft. And they need to know the difference between what they can and can’t take.

3. Imbalanced Relationships

It’s not uncommon for employees to get involved in each other’s lives and create relationships, however, these relationships can lead to employee misconduct.

For example, when a supervisor dates a subordinate, it puts everyone involved—including your company—at risk for a sexual harassment claim.

Harassment risks due to imbalanced relationships don’t just apply to romantic relationships—supervisors and managers need to keep their relationships with employees professional, to stay on the right side of the law. If a manager develops a close friendship with one employee it can lead to favoritism, or even worse—discrimination.

4. Insubordination

At first insubordination may seem like a small offense, but over time, it becomes serious. These little actions include:

  • Excessive tardiness
  • Talking back to supervisors
  • Ignoring requests for information from coworkers
  • Missing work without informing anyone
  • Exceeding scheduled break times
  • Using profane language
  • Purposely and repeatedly operating out of set processes

Employees need clear guidelines that spell out that these behaviors disrespecting managers, supervisors and fellow employees counts as insubordination.

5. Breaking Confidentiality

Our example in the beginning was an example of break confidentially. Employees need to know that they can’t talk about the big stuff like trade secrets or confidential information. But they also need to be careful about product information and launches, business processes and financial information.

Another big concern for many businesses is protecting customer information. For example, health care employees must follow strict HIPAA guidelines when it comes to revealing patient information, because if they don’t, they can get into serious trouble.

Get the Word Out About Unethical Behaviors

These are merely a few examples of employee misconduct. Unfortunately, there are many different types of unethical behaviors you need to warn your employees about.

The good news is that most of this should be covered in your company’s code of conduct or employee handbook. And you can reinforce the message that these behaviors are unacceptable with ethics training.

To learn more about what’s included in our ethics training and how you can use it to teach employees about misconduct, schedule a demo today.

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