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Definition of employee insubordination

Updated March 23, 2017

Employee insubordination occurs when an employee fails to follow the order of a supervisor. Employee discipline can be difficult for any manager and is rarely a task she enjoys, but insubordination cannot be allowed or it sets a bad precedent for the rest of the work force.

Employee Expectations

Managers and companies have expectations of employees, and these expectations are documented in job descriptions, policies and procedures. Sometimes these expectations are conveyed verbally to employees by their managers--or by another leader in the organisation. When an employee fails to follow a direction or acts inappropriately in some manner that is in conflict with company policy, the employee may be insubordinate.

Legal Definition

The legal definition of insubordination is simply an employee's refusal to follow a manager's orders. It is a serious charge and can lead to the dismissal of the employee. Employee handbooks and policy manuals should include information about actions considered to be insubordination and the actions that will be taken if an employee is insubordinate.

Aggressive Insubordination

Employees may be aggressive--or blatant--when being insubordinate. They may verbally refuse to follow an order and may use aggressive language and behaviour when refusing. Aggressive insubordination may also include physical aggression, which can lead to other disciplinary actions.

Passive Insubordination

Employees can be insubordinate passively. Passive insubordination might involve wilfully failing to follow through with a directive from a manager--simply failing to do the work or the task that was requested. It is not necessary for an employee to be aggressive for his behaviour to be classified as insubordination.

Avoiding Insubordination

To minimise the potential for insubordination, managers and supervisors should clearly convey to employees the nature of the work they will be asked to perform, be clear and specific in giving directions, and ask employees to indicate whether they understand what is being asked of them. They should attempt to gain a verbal commitment from the employees that they will do the task.

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About the Author

Leigh Richards has been a writer since 1980. Her work has been published in "Entrepreneur," "Complete Woman" and "Toastmaster," among many other trade and professional publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of Wisconsin and a Master of Arts in organizational management from the University of Phoenix.