Is My Employee Being Insubordinate?

It can be easy to confuse bad employee behavior with being insubordinate.  Sometimes the words are used interchangeably. But there is a significant difference. 

Many instances of insubordination can lead to dismissal, but it doesn’t happen automatically.

If a manager gives an order or a directive, and an employee understands what is expected of them but elects not to carry out the task or directive, they are insubordinate. 

Someone who fails at a project or misses a deadline is not insubordinate because their action was not usually willful.

But let’s consider some examples where a person being judged insubordinate is more likely.

John has been known to harass employees or intimidates them.  Presuming that John’s company has a policy against harassment (as it should), his disregard of the rule would be insubordinate.

Mary complained about being assigned to a project that she disagrees with.  Quietly she sabotages the project so that she could demonstrate that her prediction was correct. She is insubordinate.

Harry shoved a worker out of the way when he was angry with him.  Physical violence can never be tolerated in the workplace, so he is insubordinate.

Terry is given a task to do. She refuses.  She is insubordinate.

Now, what if Terry refuses to perform the task because she knows it is illegal?  In that case, she is protected because insubordination can only occur when the employee refuses an order that is “reasonable, ethical, and part of their normal job duties.”

Because of this fine-line definition, insubordination charges should be investigated by an independent third party. Someone from an organization’s human resources department could conduct such a review as long as they can do so without bias.

In addition to having a process to deal with insubordination charges, companies need policies that describe how it defines the term and what happens when it has found to be accurate. The procedure must comply with all pertinent laws.

If the incident was minor and did not cause significant damage, a company is likely to use progressive discipline.  This means that someone might get a verbal warning for a first offense, a written warning for a second offense, and suspension or firing for a third offense.

But if the act of insubordination was severe, it might result in a quick dismissal.

This is why managers need training to understand how matters like this are handled and the importance of keeping documents related to the case. Managers should also be instructed on what to say and how to act in the face of insubordination.

When managers know how to handle difficult situations, they will be under less stress, and they will be admired for the way they deal with problems in the workplace.  My online course, “Managing Difficult Employees,” is designed to give you the information you need to know and what to do.  Learn about what to say when your workers challenge you. 

Find out more HERE.  You will be happy you watched the class, the next time you face a problem employee.

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