Professional Misconduct: How to reach Positive outcome

human resources, company culture, employee dignity protection, dignity, wellbeing

“Knowing what’s right doesn’t mean much unless you do what’s right.”
― Theodore Roosevelt

One of the hardest things to do in the world of human resources is handling any social conflict or professional misconduct between employees, in my opinion. It’s not easy assessing multiple points of view and controlling the situation in which you need to remain on level and professional while simultaneously project repercussions which may occur if the professional misconduct persists and further. I had a recent situation in which two employees’ almost filed a dignity protection procedure against a third one whose joke ended up offending them in the worst possible way. These employees were in separate departments and all line managers got involved. I usually let minor mishaps be handled by them alone, but this time it seemed like the „usual suspect“ was involved and needless to say, they crossed the line. I had to step in throw in more influence as to control the situation for it to now happen again. After all, the dignity of the employees was at stake, false buzzword throughout the company on the loose and the offender had to be dealt with a powerful, last warning. It’s never easy so how do we go about it in a professional yet influential manner?

professional misconduct
Bullying in the workplace is more common than you think

Project authority and the seeming outcome without revealing it

While not really popular in human resources these days, authority and firm demeanor is what helps in these kinds of situations. Sure, today’s overall culture and soft upbringing may describe this as arrogant, harsh or even rude but it is necessary to uphold order and values a company tries to project. In the beginning, an HR professional should start by describing how serious the situation is if it got to the point where they discuss the issue directly with HR instead of the line manager (that is if the company’s process is that first couple of strikes are handled by the line manager). They should be aware that the tipping point has been reached and something legal will probably follow. The key here is not to reveal it what that is but let them know with gestures what that is (they always know). Obviously, the last chance here is to „scare“ them into submission to professional behavior before we take final measures into action.

Emphasize the impact of their behavior on others

The two employees were visibly shaken by the event and professional misconduct that took place from the offender and the job of an HR professional is to make sure to let them know that the situation will be taken care of. Next, we have line managers who invested their time into handling this before HR took over. The key here is to let the offender know how much we as HR professionals and fellow line managers had to invest energy/stress/effort into rectifying this situation. What that does is it applies additional pressure on the offender of the fact that they caused harm not only to their fellow employees but HR department and leadership as well. It solidifies the offender’s stigma on a company level and it usually effects them much deeper emotionally.

professional misconduct
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Address the issue and offer guidance

If the offender described specific situations in question or some generalities were mentioned, an HR professional should offer guidance on how to change or not fall to the same mistakes again. That way, you offer solution after emphasizing how wrong the offence was which gives them advice on escaping possible, aforementioned final measure. That guidance doesn’t have to be anything fancy just the opposite of what was done in the first place, they know it by heart anyway so not much effort is needed from the HR side.

Ask for clarification and end the conversation with the seeming outcome

After all is explained, an HR professional should clarify with the offender if the professional misconduct done was understood and what has to be done in the future as to not let it happen again. Here, the firm stand has to be taken again and without revealing the outcome, mention what happens if a similar (or any for that matter) offence happens again. What I also like to do after speaking those final words, I like to get up from my chair and without any word leave the room so they’re left, even for a couple of seconds, with their own thoughts. This further encapsulates the fact that they don’t have a choice if they wish to continue working in the company. It also projects authority and the severity of the situation.


Handling professional misconduct is never easy but something which has to be dealt with more often than not, especially in big companies. The key for any HR professional is to be exactly that, professional to the highest degree while simultaneously affect the employee in question for the positive outcome. If the employee’s overall conduct is still somewhat salvageable and the worth to company is still there, this solution might do the trick to trigger the change in behavior. Control of the psychological aspect in the interaction is key and the main tool of execution here so using it responsibly and ethicly would be expected. For this day and age, this method might seem a bit crude but it is what gets the job done in the end.

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