Workforce Discipline and the Law

The workplace is guided by laws, established norms, processes and procedures hence, the need for a specific and acceptable standard of behavior from members of the organization to enable it achieved set goals and objectives. However, because it is expected that organization members are matured adults who must have satisfied constitutional age requirements needed to enter into the workforce, we say in human resources management therefore that you don’t punish misconduct but you discipline erring personnel to ensure compliance.


Staff or workforce discipline is the appropriate means by which designated members of the organization are empowered to correct behavioral deficiencies and deviation from an acceptable behavioral pattern with the aim of ensuring adherence to company’s rules and regulations.
The point must be made that discipline is meant to be correctional and not punitive. Discipline is to help the staff adjust his or her behavioral pattern and fall in line with acceptable ways of doing things in the organization. Discipline should not be used as a tool to get even, shame or disgrace the worker.


In a landmark judgment delivered by Hon. Justice P.A. Atilade, President National Industrial Court, a case between the National Union of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institution Versus The Management of National Insurance Corporation of Nigeria, he posited thus It is within the discretion of an employer to impose an appropriate punishment, as provided in its conditions of service, for an act of misconduct by employee, which has been done
Without ambiguity, the employer is empowered to impose appropriate disciplinary measures to correct misconduct based on the service covenant, laws and conditions of employment.


In general terms, misconduct is an inappropriate behavior or acts that are termed improper or seen as a deliberate violation of a lawful order.
Specifically, workplace misconduct is the deliberate and intentional violation or disregard of known and acceptable rules and behavioral pattern whose violation is inimical to the employer’s interest for which the employee’s attention had been drawn or warned in time past.

Broadly speaking employees misconduct have been divided into two, namely:
1. Minor Misconduct
2. Gross Misconduct

Minor misconducts are seen as unacceptable behavior which nature is detrimental to sound employment or work practice but cannot be classified as a criminal offense. Minor Misconduct could lead to the termination of the contract of employment when proper notices are given or payment made in lieu of such notice but not an outright dismissal without notice or entitlement.
Excessive repetition of minor acts of misconduct with a willful and deliberate affront to the rules and regulations of an organization could be termed gross misconduct since the culprit had refused to make the necessary adjustment required of him or her.

Examples of minor misconducts are:
• Lateness to work
• Sleeping while on duty
• The error of judgment in work assignment
• Poor task performance
• Absence without permission
• Minor safety violation
• Disagreement with colleagues and sometimes with superiors on work details and assignment
• This will include mistakes or any other act of negligence.

Gross Misconduct is typically willful and objectionable behavior done in violation of the organization’s interest, her continued existence, and reputation. It can also be a deliberate act that is considered injurious to others in the organization. They carry grave consequences which may result in summary dismissal and sometimes criminal prosecution.
Gross misconduct can lead to immediate dismissal and forfeiture of entitlements or other privileges. Hence, it is demanded of HRM practitioners to pay due attention to issues that are classified as gross misconduct and ensure that appropriate procedures are followed before dismissal. Most times this has resulted in litigation and court cases.

Examples of Gross Misconducts:
• Stealing of company’s properties
• Falsification of records
• Workplace Sexual harassment
• Drunkenness ( Drinking while on duty)
• Drug abuse/taking of banned and illicit drugs
• Dishonesty
• Fraud or attempt to defraud the company
• Insubordination
• Consistent violation of the company’s rules and regulation
• Disclosure of company’s trade secret to a competitor
• The act of violence targeted at colleagues and officials of the company

It is important to note that actions that fall into this category are to be well defined, written and communicated in the language that is understood by the workers. The items listed above are not exhaustive as industry and individual organization identified issues that are very important to them and considered as gross misconduct.

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