Managing underperformance and discipline

 

Underperformance and/or misconduct in the workplace can pose considerable direct and indirect business risks to an organisation. Direct risks include decreased productivity levels, lessened quality of work outputs and increased management time dedicated to handling issues. Several negative flow on effects include low team morale, compromised organisational reputation (particularly if employees are in direct contact with customers), threatened organisational culture and increased potential for claims being made against an employer.  Accordingly, it is critical that organisations are pro-active in identifying, managing and remedying underperformance and have systems in place ready to address these issues when they arise.

Underperformance and misconduct are two separate and distinct concepts.

Underperformance

Employee underperformance is a term used to describe an employee's unsatisfactory performance, behaviour, attitude or misconduct in the workplace which is inconsistent with organisational expectations and values.

Underperformance can be exhibited in numerous ways and can range in severity.  Accordingly, the approach taken when handling instances of underperformance will vary and need to be determined on a case by case basis. The underlying focus here is performance improvement.

Common types of underperformance:

  • Attitude problems and non-compliance: Disregard for organisational policies, procedures, rules and general negative behaviour
  • Unsatisfactory work performance: A failure to achieve performance standards required of a job
  • Unacceptable interaction with other staff: Behaviour which is hostile or inappropriate, use of offensive language, being dishonest, intimidating other employees and harassment

Misconduct

Misconduct, or alleged misconduct, is something which can be quite complex and should be handled with caution; often with the involvement of a dedicated and experienced HR manager and/or by seeking external support from legal professionals or employment relations experts. If misconduct can be proven, termination is often an appropriate course of action and performance improvement is not necessary as the conduct is deemed serious enough to sever the employment relationship.

Serious misconduct

The Fair Work Regulations 2009 ('The Regulations') describe serious misconduct as meaning wilful or deliberate behaviour by an employee that is inconsistent with the continuation of the contract of employment and/or conduct that causes serious and imminent risk to the health or safety of a person; or the reputation, viability or profitability of the employer's business. The Regulations go on to list acts which will constitute serious misconduct and include (but are not necessarily limited to):

  • Theft
  • Fraud
  • Assault
  • Intoxication at work
  • Refusal to carry out a lawful and reasonable instruction which is consistent with the employment contract.

Where there is evidence of serious misconduct, professional advice should be sought before taking action.

For more information on managing underperformance and discipline, please see our:

Frequently asked questions

For more information on managing underperformance and discipline, please see our FAQs and other resources below.

Information sheets

Giving feedback in difficult situations

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Legal aspects of managing underperformance and discipline

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Performance improvement plans

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Warnings

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Methods of handling workplace conflict

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Mapping conflict

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Guidelines

Formal performance management or disciplinary meeting process

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Investigating and managing misconduct

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Checklist

Pre-performance or coaching meeting preparation

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Policies and procedures

Alcohol and other drugs

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Code of conduct

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Corrective action and discipline

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Managing unsatisfactory workplace performance

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Templates

Performance management meeting record

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Investigating misconduct interview record

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Counselling for misconduct record

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Informal warning record

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Fair Work Ombudsman letter of first / second written warning

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Fair Work Ombudsman letter of final warning

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