Some illuminating insights into the many and varied ways in which one can come unstuck at work appeared this week in an unattributed survey on transatlantic financial services industry website

The survey, jovially entitled “The thirteen most common reasons why employees get fired”, is more accurately a list of the most common forms of misconduct (it omits dismissal on redundancy or sickness grounds altogether, for example) but there are still some useful pointers here for those keen to do something a little different on the corporate misbehaviour front.

Unexcitingly, the list is headed by simple poor performance.  One then moves down through being caught lying on a job application or CV at number 3, via absenteeism and time-keeping issues to drunken behaviour in the workforce at number 12.  Other popular means of putting oneself out of work apparently include unauthorised use of email or internet facilities, disobedience, sexual harassment, stealing and, at number 6, the more restful but equally terminal “sleeping on the job”.   In days of old we could confidently have expected fighting or insubordination to make an appearance too but neither figures, replaced at the foot of the table by what may be their modern equivalent, “criticising your boss or employer on social networking sites”.

None of these would be hugely controversial as grounds for dismissal but the list also features some less concrete reasons.  How about being dismissed for “bringing your personal problems to work” as the second most common reason, “becoming embroiled in office politics” at number 7 or “engaging in office gossip/complaining about work” at number 8?  Given the degree of prior warning required to give a dismissal on any of those grounds any chance of being fair, plus the presumption that most people would heed those warnings long before the point of no return, the presence of those reasons on the list speaks poorly either of HR practices in the companies surveyed and/or (as a minimum) of the ability of those dismissed to take a hint.   

Even for the more serious matters, however, dismissal cannot be an automatic response.  The employer must still act reasonably in using those circumstances as justifying the termination.  In 1995 UK brewers Whitbread plc held a staff seminar, followed by a free bar for the attendees.  As the evening wore on some of the delegates became a little lairy – one was repeatedly and comprehensively abusive to his manager, a second poured beer over a third and the third, entering fully into the spirit of the occasion, punched the second.  None showed any remorse the next day and all three were dismissed.  In what must rank as a definite podium finish among the all-time least satisfactory decisions for employers, the Employment Tribunal concluded that their conduct was not such as to justify dismissal, largely because by providing a free bar, Whitbread had brought the whole thing upon itself.  And the seminar was titled what? “Improving behavioural skills”.