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by Jen Leigh on November 9, 2021

How To Handle Employee Misconduct

Determining when an employee investigation is warranted is one of the most difficult management responsibilities. Good judgment and a thorough understanding of company policies are vital to recognize whether any misconduct occurred and whether or not it rises to the level of inappropriate behavior. Managers must also notify all appropriate parties and investigate wisely.

Identifying Employee Misconduct

Get to know as many of your employees as possible, starting with the ones who report directly to you. This knowledge gives you a clearer insight into their personalities and behaviors and will serve you well as you begin to identify potential employee misconduct within your organization.

Employee misconduct may be reported verbally, in writing, or anonymously. Employee misconduct may be overt or subtle. If you find, for example, that suddenly all of your female employees refuse to work on a project with Joe or that none of your male employees complete tasks assigned by Sue, you should determine if the reason is misconduct.

At this point, you're simply gathering facts. Not all reported or noticed behavior is misconduct. Sometimes it's a simple misunderstanding, miscommunication, or personality clash. In such cases, convene a meeting between the parties to work out a mutually beneficial solution.

Confirming Employee Misconduct

On the other hand, if Joe is making sexually explicit comments or Sue is demanding things of her male coworkers that she doesn't request of her female coworkers, you should investigate.

Real or perceived sexual harassment is not the only reason to investigate inappropriate behavior. Managers should always investigate when certain red flags are thrown.

If you believe a company policy or law may have been violated

Many instances of employee misconduct fall under this category. Harassment and any form of discrimination not only violate company policy but are against the law. The same principle holds true for violence, substance abuse, and theft. Altered data, altered time cards, and excessive absenteeism are also forms of theft. Conflict of interest is a little more difficult to prove legally, but anything that even appears to be a conflict of interest should be addressed in your HR department's Code of Conduct.

Off-site and after-hours work-related activities are not exempt from either legal or workplace ramifications

Your employees are a reflection of your company's standards whether they're in the office or not. A red flag is especially important if the behavior affects the worker's performance or that of their coworkers.

An anonymous complaint carries the same weight as a signed complaint

An employee may not want to sign their name to a complaint for fear of retaliation. This fear doesn't lessen the validity of the complaint.

Once you find out inappropriate employee behavior has occurred, you should immediately begin investigating.

Addressing Employee Misconduct

Most companies have a notification policy in place for such situations. Your first calls should be to your HR department and yourDevelop a Multigenerational workforce immediate supervisor. In companies large enough to have an investigatory department, HR will either notify the department or direct you to do so. Under no circumstances should you delay these notifications. Lawsuits, fines, and jail time have hinged on who knew what and when.

The remaining notifications may vary depending on the alleged misconduct. Managers may have the authority to investigate minor infractions. Serious complaints require a full investigation by HR or the investigative department. Any conduct that violates the law requires police notification.

Starting your investigation

Pull the employee's personnel files prior to beginning any investigation. These files will contain information about any past complaints, which could indicate a pattern of behavior. They may also show if the employee has explanatory reasons, such as a sick family member, that may have led to falsifying timesheets or using an excessive amount of leave.

Identify the best person to lead the internal portion of the investigation and liaise with any external investigation. As the manager, you may or may not be in the best position to do this. Someone from outside your department may be able to maintain the necessary impartiality as they'll have no prior knowledge of either party.

Your role as manager is to take any steps necessary to remediate the situation until it can be resolved. You could transfer one party or the other to an equal position somewhere else within the company. You may place the accused on administrative leave. Whatever action you choose can't seem retaliatory, though. The accused may well be innocent and may be able to take legal action against you or the company if you act rashly.

Document, document, document. Keep a written account, beginning when you first suspect inappropriate behavior. Note any written or verbal complaints against the accused. Log all phone calls, emails, and other communications regarding your notification and investigative interactions.
Since you never know where an investigation will lead, your paper trail may prove vital to determining the final outcome.


In today's highly charged environment, even complimenting someone could be construed as harassment. An employee who seems reclusive could be accused of not being a team player.

Your job as a manager is to determine the root causes of seemingly deviant behavior, notify all appropriate parties, document everything, and perform whatever other duties are assigned to you.

While they may seem overwhelming, you don't have to undertake all these responsibilities on your own.

At Inflection HR, we provide a number of HR solutions that can help your small- to medium-sized business draft appropriate company policies regarding employee conduct.

From creating online employee and manager guidance to offering guidance for conducting employee investigations, we've got your solution. Contact us to learn more about our resources and make your life as a manager a little less stressful.

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Jen Leigh

Jen Leigh is a Senior Product Specialist with Inflection HR's Cloud Based HR and Workforce Management Solutions. Connect with Jenni and the rest of the Inflection HR Team on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.