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Photo of attorneys E. Kelly Conway, Michael E. Gehring and Stephen G. Harvey

How is it determined whether acts of business misconduct were intentional

On Behalf of | Sep 12, 2023 | Business Disputes

Misconduct in a business setting may be enough to spur legal action. In some cases, misconduct is used as a reason for firing an employee. For example, executives are not usually classified as at-will employees, so they can only be fired for cause. The termination process will likely require the business to prove that the misconduct that a specific executive has been accused of was committed intentionally.

These kinds of accusations could certainly could lead to a dispute. Say that a CEO says that an executive’s conduct was intentional and should be classified as “gross misconduct.” The executive alleges that there was no ill intent behind their actions. Perhaps they just made a mistake, or maybe they believe they didn’t even do anything wrong. Litigation for wrongful termination or a breach of contract could result.

Has it happened more than once?

Examples of misconduct include things like insubordination, confidentiality breaches, discrimination or harassment, unethical relationships, fraud and theft, or even the use of illegal substances. Determining intent may be different from one case to the next.

One thing to consider is whether the misconduct happens repeatedly. For instance, maybe a worker is always late for their shift, and this is viewed as an act of insubordination. If they are accidentally late one time, that’s much different than if they’re late for the majority of their shifts. This pattern of behavior can show that they are late on purpose.

Did they have something to gain?

Another important question to ask is whether or not an employee would’ve had a reason to act in the manner that they did. What did they gain from their actions, and does their gain show that they may have been working with their own best interests in mind, even as they were committing misconduct?

Say that an employee is accused of theft or fraud. They clearly had an incentive because there was the opportunity for personal financial gain. This isn’t to say that their actions being characterized as intentional misconduct couldn’t have resulted from an accident – such as an employee absentmindedly transferring funds into the wrong account – but the incentives resulting from the infraction certainly helps to paint a picture of why it may have occurred.

Determining whether instances of alleged business misconduct were intentional is a complex undertaking, as every case is unique. Those affected by such allegations – companies and their employees alike – can benefit from seeking legal guidance to better understand their rights and options.