Misconduct Versus Poor Performance

Learn to distinguish and manage poor performance and misconduct, ensuring a healthy, productive work environment and legal compliance.

Understanding the difference

Understanding the difference between misconduct and poor performance is critical in workplace management. Poor performance typically arises when an employee lacks the necessary skills, ability, or training, despite their best efforts. They fall short of expectations due to these limitations. In contrast, misconduct occurs when an employee has the capability to perform better but deliberately chooses not to, often violating workplace standards or policies. Recognising this distinction is crucial as it determines the appropriate management approach and corrective actions.


Addressing underperformance in the workplace is essential, especially since employees often may not realise they are not meeting expectations. Underperformance typically manifests as a failure to fulfil the duties of the role or meet required standards. This can be due to a lack of necessary skills, knowledge, training, or a clear understanding of what is expected from them.

Ignoring underperformance can lead to more significant issues, potentially impacting the productivity and overall performance of the entire business. Early intervention and clear communication are key to preventing these issues from escalating and ensuring that all employees contribute effectively to the organisation's goals.


Misconduct in the workplace is a serious issue and is distinctly different from underperformance. It involves a wilful and deliberate breach of company policy or procedure, which can potentially lead to disciplinary action, including dismissal. Understanding the various forms of misconduct is essential for effective management and maintaining a healthy workplace environment.

The two types of misconduct are:

  1. General Misconduct includes actions like non-compliance with workplace policies, rules, or procedures, unacceptable behaviour, and disruptive or negative behaviour affecting co-workers. General misconduct often reflects an employee who is disengaged or unmotivated, and may manifest in lateness, poor presentation, unexplained absences, or inappropriate behaviour towards other employees.
  2. Serious Misconduct is more grave and includes actions that deliberately undermine the employee's employment contract and pose a serious risk to health and safety or the business's reputation, viability, or profitability. Examples include assault, bullying or harassment, leaking confidential information, substance abuse at work, corruption, and theft.

It's crucial to address misconduct promptly and effectively. Depending on the severity, responses can range from performance management strategies to more formal disciplinary processes. In cases of serious misconduct, immediate action may be necessary to prevent further harm to the company or its employees.

Employment Compass can assist in analysing employee performance, reviewing cases of misconduct and implementing appropriate performance management or disciplinary processes. We guide businesses in navigating these complex situations, ensuring that actions taken are fair, legal, and in the best interests of the company and its employees. Call our 24/7 Employer Helpline at 1300 144 002.

Frequently asked questions

What is the difference between misconduct and poor performance?

Misconduct involves deliberate violation of standards or policies, while poor performance is often due to a lack of skills or training.

How does underperformance show in the workplace?

Underperformance typically appears as a failure to meet role duties or standards, often due to insufficient skills or understanding of expectations.

Why is addressing underperformance important?

Addressing underperformance is crucial to prevent broader impacts on productivity and the business' overall performance.

What constitutes misconduct in the workplace?

Misconduct includes deliberate breaches of policy, which can range from general misconduct, like non-compliance and inappropriate behaviour, to serious misconduct, such as theft or harassment.

How should misconduct be addressed?

Misconduct should be addressed promptly, with responses varying from performance management to formal disciplinary including termination of employment, depending on severity.

Have a question?

We're available 24/7. Call our Workplace Relations specialists now or contact us below.

Let's resolve your workplace question.

By submitting my contact details, I confirm that I have read and agree to the Terms of Use and the Privacy Policy. I consent to you contacting me about Employment Compass services.

Thank you

Thanks for reaching out. We will get back to you soon.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.