INSUBORDINATION: Best Workplace Practices & All You Need


Employers can handle insubordination in the workplace in various ways, but the most direct approach for a larger percentage of the population is always to fire the employee. However, you must understand insubordination is something that occurs regardless of ethics or camaraderie among employees. So before responding to an insubordinate employee, ensure that they know about the company’s policy regarding compliance. Also, confirm employees in the Human Resources Department possess a ton of knowledge in specific instances of employee disruptions.

In the meantime, we will go over all you should know about insubordination in the workplace.


A staple in most TV police dramas shows a rogue detective who tests the limits, goes against the Captain’s advice, and is shouted at for insubordination; but then captures the bad guy. All is forgiven, of course.

In the business sector, insubordination rarely leads to forgiveness and praise; rather, it is usually a precursor to termination. Employee insubordination to a manager can result in a weakened department, a lack of confidence, and low morale. Other employees will be in confusion about what they need to accomplish if one employee repeatedly defies a manager’s directions.

As a result, you must be aware of insubordination and how to handle it in the workplace.

What is Insubordination?

The dictionary definition is “defiance of authority; unwillingness to obey orders.” However, most workplaces aren’t set up in such a way that managers can anticipate flawless conformity to management direction. Professional-level personnel often receive a great deal of independence in how they approach their work. Good managers understand that their direct reports are the experts in their fields and rely on them to speak up.

In most cases, the distinction between insubordination and pushback is how the employee tackles the situation. Insubordination occurs when an employee disregards a manager’s directive and performs something else. If an employee approaches the boss and explains why the management’s rules are a bad idea, a conversation occurs, and they eventually agree, that is pushback.

Examples of Insubordinate Behaviour

Recognizing the signs of insubordination is the first step in combating the problem. Insubordination is any deviation from the manager or a superior’s instructions. However, there must be an intentional element to it in order for it to be viewed and rebuked as such. As a result, distinguishing between mistakes that can be handled as typical blunders and blatant insubordinate behavior is crucial.

Therefore, some staff behaviors that may easily be characterized as insubordination include the following;

#1. Intimidation or Harassment

Your workplace should have a zero-tolerance policy for intimidation and harassment. At work, people need to feel safe and secure, and any employee who threatens their coworkers or bosses should be examined quickly. The policies and procedures for dealing with workplace harassment should also be stated in the employee handbook.

Launch an investigation, make a notation in the employee’s file, and assess whether more disciplinary action is warranted.

#2. Abusive Language

Cursing is frequent, and if it is used as a normal part of the workplace it does not need the adoption of insubordination prevention techniques. Insubordination, however, comes into the picture when harsh language is used in an abusive manner without provocation as a result of something the management said or did. The action should be noted, but the intensity of the moment should also be considered. It should be mentioned in the file if the outburst was a one-time occurrence. If this continues, it can lead to insubordination and perhaps termination.

#3. Confrontational Actions

In the workplace, people will almost always have diverse ideas, and a subordinate who disagrees with their management or boss is not inherently insubordinate. However, it can be seen as such if they confront and dispute with their superior in front of the rest of the team.

When someone acts combatively to the manager openly or publicly questions their authority, it can contribute to low morale. Such issues should be discussed behind closed doors. Defaming another person, spreading rumors that cause division among coworkers, and making improper comments on a frequent occasions are all examples of confrontational behavior. Confrontational activities should be documented as much as possible in the employee file for disciplinary review.

Each of these insubordinate behaviors necessitates a prompt and decisive response. Some forms of insubordination, on the other hand, are more subtle yet nevertheless harmful. Here are a few examples:

#4. Sabotage — an employee silently going behind their manager’s back to undertake duties that were specifically unsupported – is less visible, but just as destructive to the manager’s reputation and team morale.

#5. Failure to Perform — when an employee is plainly assigned a task and chooses to ignore or refuse to carry it out. But then if they have any ethical or legal issues about the order, they should speak with the manager immediately and express their concerns explicitly. A failure to perform necessitates a written record, as well as the employee’s excuse, to be on file if the employee’s stance isn’t expressed.

What Constitutes Non-Insubordination?

The following are not examples of insubordination:

  • An employee who refuses to do anything that they are not compelled to do (for example, something that is outside the scope of their work duties).
  • An employee who misunderstands instructions and hence fails to complete a task.
  • A worker who refuses to engage in unethical or illegal behavior.
  • An employee refuses to obey a command that is unreasonable in view of current societal norms.
  • An employee who refuses to carry out a instruction from someone without authority.
  • A worker who refuses to do dangerous labor.
  • An employee’s refusal to agree to a pay raise.

But then, if the employee’s action is justified, firing should not be the first option. Instead, it might be more beneficial for the employer to listen to the employee’s explanation and come up with a solution to prevent it from happening again.

Can I be fired for insubordination?

If the insubordination was minimal or a one-time occurrence, the employer may be required to conduct progressive sanctions before firing the employee without cause. A verbal warning, written warning, or suspension may be used as progressive discipline. And with the goal of correcting the behavior, the discipline must be commensurate to the misconduct.

On the flip side, if the insubordination was severe or had developed into a pattern, it might be grounds for dismissal if it amounted to a full disdain for the employer’s proper directions.

Meanwhile, a single act of insubordination may, in rare cases, be grounds for dismissal. But for this to happen, it must be wilful and related to a substantive matter. In the instance of Frunchak v McAleer, for example, a loan manager got a dismissal letter for insubordination after extending loans without pre-approval despite his employer’s directives. The dismissal was sustained by the Court, which determined that the conduct was related to a substantive matter.

For the most part, the bar for proving just cause is remarkably high. Every case comes with the existence and determination of a just cause. Courts take into account, the circumstances surrounding the occurrence, such as the employee’s length of service and disciplinary record. The employer has to bear the burden of proving that the employee violated the employment contract to the point that the relationship can no longer be saved.

In the instance of Weibe v Central Transport, for example, a violation of a policy prohibiting the consumption of alcoholic beverages did not constitute insubordination or just cause for dismissal when the employee had an excellent and long work history.

Interventions for Insubordination

Staff, understandably, want to keep their employment, while managers want employees who follow orders. There are legitimate clashing of ideas and personalities that can make this challenging, but managers can take some steps to help.

The first step is to be proactive.

Set clear limits for yourself. Employees will know what they need to do if you tell them your limits upfront; plus conflict will be less likely to arise.

Pay attention to your employees. In a lot of scenarios, insubordination stems from a real disagreement over the appropriate course of action. You’ll have a chance to discover a solution before insubordination happens if you establish an open relationship with your staff and listen when they say, “I don’t think we should do this.” Additionally, if you insist that your instructions are correct, you will get the opportunity to explain why you gave the order.

Observe all applicable laws and ethical guidelines. Employees will be more compliant if they understand every applicable law with the knowledge that their employer observes every one of them. They’d not feel the need to rebel if the company focuses on adhering to the health department’s requirements, for example. Additionally, If you follow the law, you’ll be much less likely to lose your case in court or before a labor board, if the need arises.

What are the effects of workplace insubordination?

Employees who refuse to perform needful often have a negative impact on the workplace and cost the company time and money in the long run. Some of the repercussions of non-compliance include;

#1. Lower Production Rates

Staff members that fail to complete their obligations reduce a company’s or organization’s overall production. Insubordination that goes unchecked can lead to expensive terminations and high turnover rates.

#2. Inappropriate Work Environment

Employees who are insubordinate can also make their coworkers unhappy. When a worker fails to accomplish needed tasks, other members of the team, oftentimes, get to do extra work, resulting in stress increase and morale reduction. Employees that are dissatisfied are less inclined to collaborate or advance.

#3. Loss of Clients

Employees that refuse to collaborate with management are more likely to offer low-quality service or poor customer service; both of which can drive away loyal customers. On the other hand, a client who has had a terrible experience with a business is less likely to refer them; also costing you potential customers.

#4. Workplace Conflict

Insubordinate employees are frequently the cause of a variety of workplace conflicts. Uncooperative employees create an imbalance that might drive workers to become upset or anxious.

#5. Brand Damage

A disgruntled employee may spread rumors, publicize secret information, or make negative statements about your company. In the end, fixing your reputation may be tough and expensive, especially when negative reviews and libelous remarks go on sites where they cannot be withdrawn.

Types of Policies and Causes of Insubordination

Insubordination policies can be broad or narrow. Broader regulations might encompass a wide range of workplace difficulties. Policies, on the other hand, might be very comprehensive and apply to certain instances.

Managerial Cohesion

Insubordination can manifest in a variety of ways, including within management personnel. Managers should follow the same policies as their subordinates, and there should be no favoritism. Address any discord or miscommunication between the management and his or her subordinates.

Perhaps a management is attempting to dismiss an employee in order to take over a position, or a manager has given an employee unrealistic or impossible responsibilities to perform. In such situations, it’s critical to listen to both sides and use your best judgment to come up with a proper answer.

Also, pay attention to your management if an employee displays indicators of insubordination.

Understanding a Situation

Insubordination could also be a result of inefficiency in the workplace. For example, one employee may be taking on the responsibilities of three employees and is unable to handle further work. Stress might also play a role. Take the effort to understand any conditions or factors that may have caused an employee to act out before terminating them. There should be policies that guide against this too.

For the most part, employees may also be dealing with difficult working conditions, in which case you should evaluate employee treatment generally and the conditions in which they work. Your employees may be tense as a result of difficult working conditions.

Note: Pay attention to what your most valuable employees have to say to find out whether there are any conflicts or challenges. Inquire of valuable employees about anyone who is promoting discontent in the workplace, and pinpoint the root of dysfunction by firing or sending a strong warning to that person. 

Solid Grounds for Termination

In other circumstances, the end is obvious:

  • Employees may lose the respect of their bosses or bosses’ bosses, and they may disobey orders or miss deadlines on purpose.
  • Insubordinates may make a variety of reasons and refuse to apologize for missed deadlines or unfinished assignments.
  • An employee may try to place blame for missed or incomplete work on other team members.
  • A person will not accept accountability for their conduct.
  • An employee’s tardiness or flagrant disdain for work schedules can have a negative impact on workplace efficiency.

You can identify these occurrences over time in a succession of patterns, in which case you can offer warnings to an individual to modify their behavior. Termination is the best option if they do not correct themselves after fair notice.

Workplace Insubordination: How to Handle It

Despite popular belief, many employees do not set out to be insubordinate or difficult in the workplace from the start. Employees naturally want to keep their employment, while managers want their employees to follow orders. However, legitimate conflicts of ideas, personalities, values, and beliefs can make this partnership challenging at times.

You can avoid insubordination if you follow a few simple rules; that’s after you know for sure that you’re dealing with insubordination.

#1. Ensure that You’re Communicating Clearly and Professionally

Leave no opportunity for ambiguity or misinterpretation. When insubordination arises, state unequivocally that such behavior is inappropriate and contrary to company policy.

Insubordinate behavior can come as arrogance and can sometimes be frightening. Don’t be tempted to retaliate in the same way. Maintain your composure. Remove yourself from the equation if things heat up, and resume the conversation once everyone is calmer.

It may not be prudent to discuss the insubordinate behavior in this situation if there are other coworkers present. However, ensure to follow up as quickly as possible.

#2. Maintain open lines of communication.

You’ll be able to recognize minor issues before they escalate into instances of insubordination if you establish an open and understanding connection with your staff. Unchecked misunderstanding can lead to insubordination, so make it a point to listen to your employees.

While face-to-face meetings are beneficial, encourage regular communication between employees and their managers through other means. Don’t put off clearing the air until the weekly team meeting; misunderstandings can quickly escalate if not addressed.

#3. Implement Preventive Measures

Make sure your company’s policy defines insubordination and outlines the consequences. Ascertain that all employees are aware of the definition of insubordination and the consequences.

Furthermore, when recruiting new employees, make sure to establish boundaries so that they understand their limits and how to behave among senior staff and other coworkers.

Meanwhile, it may be difficult to establish boundaries when none previously existed, especially when working alongside coworkers who have established routines. It will help if there is a clear structure and communication.

#4. Keep an Eye on Insubordinate Behavior

If overlooked, insubordination can spiral out of control, so be sure to spot and address incidents of insubordination as soon as they occur. Begin with modest reminders, and if the bad behavior persists, raise the severity of the punishment. Understanding the consequences of insubordination might help employees avoid becoming insubordinate.

#5. Implement Incentives to Boost Morale

Employees who feel valued are less likely to stoke dissent or cause workplace strife, so implement employee reward and recognition programs as well as incentive pay to recognize and reward good performance.

Handling Insubordination After It Happens

Even the most qualified manager who adheres to the standards and procedures to the latter may encounter insubordination on occasion. There are several recommended practices to follow when dealing with an insubordinate employee in order to avoid further escalating the situation.

#1. Recognize the Behavior Right Away

The first step in resolving the problem is to confront it head-on. Ignoring insubordination, even for a short time, will always lead to more insubordination. Even if the situation is minor, merely ignoring it sets a precedent in the workplace that your directions are only ideas, not regulations.

That isn’t to mean you should start monitoring your employees’ every move. You don’t have to give directions for everything, and you don’t have to be in charge of every detail of your employees’ work hours. Rather, this simply means that if you’ve provided clear directions and an employee doesn’t follow them, you should call them out on it right away.

#2. Issue Consequences

Obviously, the consequences you impose will differ depending on the situation. A short reminder, for example, may suffice if an employee closes the doors five minutes after they should. If the behavior persists, a formal warning in accordance with your company’s disciplinary policies may be issued.

As previously said, if an act is terrible, it must be punished immediately. A written reprimand or punishment would be the best action if an employee lied to a customer and told them the contrary of what you said.

#3. Document Everything

Managers have a bad habit of avoiding records of minor transgressions. They prefer to wait until there is substantial rebellion before taking action. Any termination, however, will necessitate a dependable paper trail, which can also serve to protect you in court if a dispute arises. Document any insubordinate behavior, no matter how minor. Also, obtain testimonies from witnesses, and file everything in the appropriate file.

#4. Be Fair

When it comes to managing their employees, no manager can be completely objective. They are, after all, human, and will undoubtedly make mistakes. When it comes to insubordination and disciplinary punishment, however, there should be a uniform standard. Fairness and impartiality should be in view before disciplining your staff. How you handle insubordination is crucial to maintaining staff morale and increasing employee confidence.

What Is Considered Insubordination in the Workplace?

Insubordination is any deviation from the manager or a superior’s instructions.

What Are Some Examples of Insubordination?

Perfect examples of insubordination include harassment, intimidation, use of abusive language, and confrontational actions However, some subtle examples include sabotage and failure to perform.

Can I Dismiss an Employee for Insubordination?

Meanwhile, a single act of insubordination may, in rare cases, be grounds for dismissal. But for this to happen, it must be wilful and related to a substantive matter.

What Is the Difference Between Misconduct and Insubordination?

Insubordination is a sort of wrongdoing that involves disobedience or failure to obey a superior’s directives. Misconduct is a broad phrase that refers to behavior that is deemed inappropriate or wrong in a certain setting.

What is insubordinate Behaviour?

Employee insubordination is defined as the purposeful unwillingness to obey an employer’s reasonable and legitimate directives. Insubordination has three components: There is a clear, lawful, and reasonable order; the order comes from a person in charge; and the employee willfully disobeys the order.

In Conclusion

At its root, insubordination is unavoidable. Regardless of how many precautions you take, no manager is completely immune to the potential of an employee defying their orders. There are, nevertheless, things that a manager can do to minimize insubordination. Setting clear boundaries and listening to your staff when there are conflicts are both important first steps. And, if prevention is no longer an option, the proper action should follow – identify the behavior, give penalties, document everything, and, most importantly, be fair.

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