What Is Misconduct in the Workplace?

To avoid the pink slip, know what the rules are at your workplace.
i Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images

Riding the line between good and bad behavior can be different for every workplace. In some places, casting a dirty look at the boss may get you fired for misconduct; in others, you may feel like you can get away with murder. But even though each workplace has its own set of rules, misconduct at work can fall into a few basic categories. If you've been fired for "misconduct," the type of misconduct you committed may mean the difference between getting unemployment and not getting it, and the way it's defined may depend on the laws in your state.

General Terminology

    Often the best way to find out what's acceptable and what is not at your workplace is to read your employee handbook. In a more general sense, the U.S. Department of Labor defines misconduct as "an intentional or controllable act or failure to take action, which shows a deliberate disregard of the employer's interests." By that definition, you can demonstrate misconduct by either doing something that is not in the best interests of the business, or by not doing something to prevent something else from happening.


    If you're fired from a job for misconduct, the type of infraction you committed may determine whether or not you get benefits. In the state of New Jersey, for example, misconduct is separated into three categories: Simple, serious and gross misconduct. In Vermont, it's categorized as either simple or gross for determining unemployment benefits. Your employer may use the definitions set forth by your state's labor department, or she may use her own definitions. If she separates misconduct into three categories, simple misconduct may include being late too often, being rude to your employer or customers, or being gone too often from work. These are generally behaviors that don't cause significant damage, but can be annoying or affect the business's bottom line.


    If your state or your employer separates the types of misconduct into the simple severe and gross categories, "severe" misconduct could involve doing things that may be harmful to a business, such as skimming office supplies or allowing others to steal from the employer -- take the convenience store clerk who turns a blind eye to someone else's shoplifting, for example. If you get a written warning for being late or gone too often, continuing to do that thing can turn from simple to severe misconduct. You may also be charged with misconduct if you share company secrets with competitors, falsify your resume or disobey orders.


    The most extreme cases are often considered "gross" or "aggravated" misconduct, and typically involve some type of illegal act. In the state of Vermont, for example, that includes "theft, fraud, intoxication, intentional serious damage to property, intentional infliction of personal injury, and conduct that constitutes a felony." In Minnesota, "aggravated" misconduct means anything "that would amount to a gross misdemeanor or felony." This could range from assaulting another employee to driving while drunk on the job.

the nest