How To Discipline An Insubordinate Employee?

Insubordination can occur in any workplace, but it is generally considered to be a highly uncommon event.

An insubordinate employee is someone who refuses to obey or comply with a supervisor’s or manager’s legitimate and reasonable orders.

Insubordinate workers can refuse to perform or complete assigned tasks, disobey company policies or procedures, or publicly challenge or criticize their supervisors or bosses.

Insubordination can range in severity from purposeful negligence and passive resistance to active disobedience and open threats to authority.

In rare cases, it may include verbal or physical abuse directed at a supervisor or coworker.

how to discipline insubordinate employee

How to discipline an insubordinate employee?

Insubordination is a negative and undesirable quality in a staff. No boss likes insubordination.​ However, disciplining an insubordinate employee can be tricky.

Disciplining an insubordinate employee must be done fairly and uniformly, whether it’s as simple as a side chat or as severe as firing.

Do not take insubordination lightly, as one small leak may lead to a deluge.

Do not let your ego get in the way of delivering an exemplary disciplinary response.

Here are some steps to consider when disciplining an insubordinate employee:

  • Document the behavior: Keep detailed records of the insubordinate behavior, including dates, times, and witnesses.
  • Investigate the situation: Talk to the employee in presence of a witness. Make inquiries of any witnesses to gather detailed information about the incident.
  • Communicate clearly: Clearly explain to the employee their specific behavior that is considered insubordination. Also, explain how it violates company policies or standards.
  • Issue a warning: Issue a verbal and/or written warning to the employee, outlining the consequences of continued insubordination.
  • Take disciplinary action: If the insubordinate behavior continues, take appropriate disciplinary action, such as a pay cut, suspension, or termination, as per your company’s policies.
  • Follow up: Monitor the employee’s performance after disciplinary action has been taken to ensure that the insubordinate behavior has stopped.

Follow your company’s policies and procedures. Consult the human resources or legal department if your company has one.

If you have any doubts, discuss them with your bosses.

How to handle Informal or Minor Insubordination?

To get things done, bosses must rely on the people working under them. But how do you do that and still keep a good relationship with your employees?

Here are the five steps to handling informal insubordination in the workplace:

Step 1: Clarify expectations from the employee.

Be clear on what you want. Be clear on what you’re saying no to. If your employees aren’t familiar with the content, they may misunderstand and take it the wrong way. Make sure the employee understands the gravity of the situation.

Step 2: Be direct in your communication.

Be direct. If they’re not listening or listening very well, point out that this behavior isn’t acceptable. It’s crucial that the erring employee acknowledges their unacceptable behavior.

Step 3: Remain calm and composed.

Say it in a way that’s not aggressive or intimidating. If you say it curtly, they may feel like you’re attacking them and come back at you.

Step 4: Confirm they understand the instructions.

Make sure they understand exactly what you have asked them to do. If necessary, have them write or record (on their phone) what you want them to do.

Step 5: Appreciate and promote good behavior.

Once the employee meets your expectations, and you are satisfied with the work, appreciate them for their help. This prevents future chances of insubordination.

How to handle Formal or Gross Insubordination?

For the more serious breach of official orders, here is a practical procedure:

1. Do not take it personally.

First, whenever insubordination occurs, do not take it personally. It means the offending employee did not target you as a person, but your position in the company. It means the rebellious worker would have done it to anyone else in your position.

2. Do not lose your temper.

Second, do not lose your temper. The unexpected disobedience may take you surprised and make you angry or hurt. However, the best response is not to react immediately with aggression or break down.

3. Remove yourself from the situation.

Third, move away from the situation to some neutral or safe space. Insubordination can cause emotional overload. Moving away may be a necessary measure, especially for a female employee facing physically or emotionally threatening insubordination.

Once away, gather your thoughts and control your emotional surge. You may take help from a supportive colleague to figure out the situation better and plan your next steps.

4. Follow the 5-Step method – Establish, Communicate, Record, Plan, and Implement.

Fourth, use the following 5-step method to discipline the insubordinate employee:

  • Step 1: Establish that willful insubordination has occurred after the employee clearly understood the direct orders.
  • Step 2: Communicate the unacceptability of the disobedient act in a firm, professional, and empathetic tone.
  • Step 3: Record the event and bring it to the notice of the human-resource personnel and higher authorities.
  • Step 4: Plan a future course of action relating to the act and possibly further such acts, without feelings of retaliation.
  • Step 5: Devise and implement measures to prevent similar acts from the same or other workers.

    How to handle unintentional insubordination?

    Sometimes, insubordination can be unintentional, and the employee does not realize they are committing one unless it is too late or until a coworker or the superior points it out.

    In such rare situations, an inquiry into the insubordination incident may find that the act was indeed unintentional. The errant employee may not have read, or been told about, the organization’s exclusive policies on permissible behaviors and insubordinate behaviors.

    In such cases, the insubordinate employee can still face disciplinary action if the investigation proves that they did not consider the policies important enough to read when they were asked to.

    Final Words

    Insubordinate employees can be frustrating for managers and business owners. For one, they abruptly break the workflow and chain of command.

    If not adequately and timely disciplined, they would impede work, create conflict, and cost money.

    It is important to remember that disciplinary action should be fair and should never be issued without first conducting an investigation and hearing both the offender and victim parties.

    • • •

    Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy — a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher, who writes on mental well-being, happiness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).


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