Insubordination

Includes the Definition, Tips for Dealing with it Effectively

Insubordination
Get a simple, accurate definition of insubordination, along with tips for dealing with it effectively. Includes information on write-ups and termination.

Last updated November 19th, 2017

Insubordination is a direct or indirect refusal by an employee to perform a legal, ethical, and reasonable directive from a manager or supervisor when the directive has been clearly understood. Insubordination is often confused with misconduct or insolence.

Insolence occurs when an employee mocks, insults, disrespects or shows similar inappropriate behavior toward a manager or supervisor. Misconduct occurs when employee behavior is criminal, harassing, or unethical. This behavior is often outlined in a code of conduct.

Examples of Insubordination:
Examples Of Insubordination

When a supervisor makes a legal, ethical, and reasonable request, there are two examples of how an employee can be insubordinate. The first example is openly refusing to obey the request, either through verbal or physical action. The second example is passively refusing - or ignoring - the request.

How to Deal with Insubordination in the Workplace:

1. Stay professional.

Insubordinate behavior can feel rude and disrespectful. Don't be tempted to respond with similar behavior. Stay calm. If you have to, remove yourself from the situation rather than losing your temper.

2. Let them know clearly that their behavior is unacceptable.

Don't leave any room for doubt. Clearly state that their behavior is considered insubordination and is against company policy.

3. Try to understand the problem.

Immediately after the incident arrange a meeting, if possible, with a 3rd party such as an HR representative. Try to understand what lead to the behavior from the employee's point of view, and see if it's something that can be resolved, or is rooted in a misunderstanding.

4. Develop a plan for avoiding further problems.

If the employee wants to avoid further issues, talk to them about what can be done in the future to avoid this sort of problem.

5. Explain the consequences of additional infractions.

Explain what their employee handbook says regarding insubordination, and what the consequences are, including disciplinary action and up to termination.

6. Officially document the incident.

Document the incident with an official write-up form. Include a factual description of the incident, along with a plan for improvement and the consequences for additional infractions. Have the employee or a witness sign it. Sign it yourself as well.

7. Follow through on your plans.

Work with the employee to improve behavior and communication and, if necessary, take the next steps you've outlined if the behavior does not improve.

How to Write Up an Employee for Insubordination:
How To Write Up An Employee For Insubordination
  1. Start the write-up process immediately after the incident.
  2. Use an official write-up form.
  3. Stick to facts, not opinion, to describe what happened.
  4. Describe an improvement plan and consequences for more incidents.
  5. Ask the employee to sign the form.
  6. If the employee won't sign it, ask a witness to sign.
  7. Give the employee a copy of the form.
  8. Have a copy added to the employee's personnel file.
Firing Someone for Insubordination:
Firing Someone For Insubordination

While most companies have a progressive discipline plan, insubordination may be grounds for immediate dismissal. If an incident involved threats, abusive behavior, discriminatory or harassing remarks, or is part of a documented pattern, employers will likely terminate employment immediately.