What Is The Legal Definition Of “Unprofessional Conduct?”

“Unprofessional conduct” is a legal phrase, the meaning of which is dependent on the situation relating to its use. When you hear the phrase, you might think of a retail store worker talking back to their boss, speaking unapologetically or rudely to a customer, or maybe even showing off a tattoo they could just as easily cover up. And that might be how a retail establishment might define unprofessional conduct in its own “code” of conduct — that set of guidelines given to every employee at the time of orientation.

But legally, it means something different.

“Unprofessional conduct” is defined by Law Insider as “one or more acts of misconduct; one or more acts of immorality, moral turpitude or inappropriate behavior involving a minor; or commission of a crime involving a minor. A criminal conviction is not an essential element of determining whether or not a particular act constitutes unprofessional conduct.”

A second definition of the phrase says unprofessional conduct “means conduct unbecoming a licensee or detrimental to the best interests of the public, including conduct contrary to recognized standards of ethics of the licensee’s profession or conduct that endangers the health, safety or welfare of a patient or client.”

One example wherein the phrase might be used occurs most often in civil litigation. Let’s say a former employee for one of the aforementioned retail establishments would like to sue for wrongful termination. They say that they approached the employer about not being provided with legally mandated break periods, after which the employer fired the employee. This is called retaliation, and is illegal — which would mean that the termination was unjustified.

Now let’s say the employer fires back, saying something like: “No, we fired the employee for drawing swastikas all over the break room walls during a break.”

In this particular instance — and supposing what the employer says is true — the court would rule in favor of the defendant, and against the plaintiff, in part because the plaintiff’s unprofessional conduct is unbecoming of a professional workplace — and perhaps even endangers other employees in the process.

Another example (which made the news recently) occurred in Volusia County when fire chief Ken Fustin was fired for unprofessional conduct. He had harassed and verbally accosted another county official, Joseph Pozza — and was foolish enough to go off on the tirade in public during lunch at a Daytona Beach Cracker Barrel restaurant.

Apparently Fustin said, “You want to see unprofessional, we can step outside right now and I will show you what unprofessional looks like.”

Fortunately for our purposes, he’s done exactly that! This is a perfect example of “unprofessional conduct” that can result in a lost job or even legal action. When you threaten another person or another person feels threatened by your words, this meets both the definition of unprofessional conduct and assault. He could quite literally have been charged with a crime.