5 examples of insubordination in the workplace (with tips)

Learn how to identify and manage insubordination in the workplace with practical examples and effective resolution strategies for maintaining harmony. Discover tips for addressing workplace disputes and fostering a productive environment.

By Brad Nakase, Attorney

Email  |  Call (888) 600-8654

Have a quick question? I answered nearly 1500 FAQs.

Subordination may give rise to workplace disputes. This concept applies to any employee who intentionally overlooks or undermines his or her superiors and could be dealt with accordingly. Awareness of insubordination and its management is what leaders can use to maintain a friendly and productive work environment.

This article deals with workplace insubordination and provides approaches to settling disputes with colleagues as well as instances of the concept in practice.

What is the definition of the term “workplace insubordination”?

Insubordination is when a person willingly defies an authority figure. Employers, supervisors, and the organization’s owners are a few examples of these people at work. It would not be insubordination unless the employee desires to disobey the said person. The following are common components of insubordination:

  • An authoritative person gives a command either in writing or orally.
  • This is an appropriate and legal directive.
  • Admitting the order, the employee refuses to follow.

These elements help in assessing situations of insubordination. An employee does not disobey by refusing to perform a task from their management that is considered dangerous, immoral, or unethical. They may also deny performing a task that is not among their duties.

Once an employee takes an offer of a job from a company, they often consent to an agreement or expectation. Insubordination could also result from a breach of such regulations. Those who commit insubordination acts may receive warnings or even termination depending on the situation.

Workplace insubordination examples

Here are a few instances of how insubordination in the workplace could be encountered

  1. Unwilling to complete a project

As indicated earlier, the employee demonstrates insubordination by refusing to perform a task given to them by their employer which is in the scope of their work. Cleaning the tables of the coffee shop as part of the end-of-day tasks is one activity that could be included in the duties of a barista. It would be insubordination if an executive orders them to do it and they refuse or ignore the instruction.

However, depending on the situation, workers are still at liberty to refuse assignments. If the barista told the manager of the concerns associated with wiping the tables or gave a reason why they couldn’t do it on that day, they would be able to negotiate. Similarly, the barista is not insubordinate when asked by the management to carry out immoral or unlawful acts.

  1. Non-attendance at work

Terms are typically signed by employees upon commencement of work and may include a work schedule. Such rules state when an employee should come to work, for example, from Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. One type of insubordination is when a person does not show up for work during the days or hours assigned to them.

  1. Absentee without notice and prior to planned

Workers also make a commitment to work the hours allotted to them during onboarding. Insubordination is the result of the violation of these regulations. It will amount to insubordination when a subordinate who is supposed to work till 3 p.m. chooses to leave by 1 p.m. without notice to the manager or approval.

If the boss told them they were not allowed to go, this worker would behave in a furious or disobedient way. Again, subordination will be avoided when the employees ask for permission or if the reason they provide for leaving is acceptable to the people above them.

  1. Disobeying the authorities

Insubordination is a major characteristic of workers who openly scorn their superiors in the place of work. An employee might cause arguments with their supervisors by shouting at them or using offensive language, for example. In the public, they can also openly denounce or argue against their activities or instructions, thus questioning the manager’s credibility.

Subtle manifestations of contempt, such as a rolling of the eyes by an employee when a superior gives instructions or announces something, are looked upon as insubordination in some workplace environments. In order to keep the employees within the set and acceptable actions, organizations develop a definition of insubordination.

  1. Subverting/Undermining organizational or team efforts

Sabotaging is a word that describes any time when someone does something to ruin or destroy anything. This would include problems, for example, with stopping the development of a certain project, consortium, or one group of employees at work. An employee may avoid completing his obligations related to a project, which can be sabotage or insubordination.

If one worker, for example, refuses to hand over the report by the due date, the team’s ability to deliver the final product to the client may be affected. This failure will spoil the bonding and image with the customer.

Similarly, they also execute tasks that their boss has specifically told them not to as it is detrimental to the team or project. Sabotage destroys the performance of the organization and can put into a bad light the management of the workers and possibly the whole organization.

Tips about handling work disputes

The approaches mentioned below will assist you in managing and resolving conflicts at the workplace.

  • Find inappropriate behaviors: Identification and treatment of major insubordinate behaviors in the workplace when they are noticed is crucial. In doing this you are defining what the expected behavior of colleagues or employees is.
  • Record events: Other than dealing with every single case of insolence or contradiction, you can also write down slight occurrences as they occur. Take some notes on the specifics of the events e.g. what took place, who took part, where, and at what point in time. In addition, other evidence could be statements of colleagues or any other employee who was there when the instances happened.
  • Remain composed: A relaxed atmosphere during the conflict settlement discussion may help everybody feel more comfortable. Listen to all sides of the disagreement first before responding or talking as this tends to defuse tension and put people at ease.
  • Remain impartial: Fairness is an important element in the dispute resolution process and requires assessing both sides but without laying blame. Mutual respect between people and dialogs is easier when all are heard.
  • Find areas where compromises can be made: Most often a peaceful resolution of disputes is based on concession from both sides to achieve fair outcomes. One way of knowing how things are likely to align is to inquire from every person what they would wish the outcome of such an engagement to look like. If not, you can begin suggesting ideas in which both sides can make a concession so as to arrive at the right solution.
  • Create an action plan: After the resolution of the conflict, you will develop a plan to help the parties in question maintain the right direction and proper relations.
  • When necessary, engage third parties: In some situations, you may find it advantageous to bring in someone else, such as a representative from the human resource department of your company. For example, they can act in the capacity of objective interveners and convene all of you in the conflict table in which you are involved with one of your colleagues.

Frequently Asked Questions

Insubordination: What are the consequences?

The seriousness of the offense, company policy, and relevant employment laws all affect the specific consequences of insubordination. A number of possible punishments are written or verbal warnings, demotion, suspension, reduction of privileges, termination of employment, or, in more extreme cases, legal proceedings.

Can a subordinate report an upper management for insubordination?

In particular conditions, a superior or a manager may be the object of an insubordination charge by a subordinate. In these situations, log the claim with evidential material following the company-approved grievance or complaint process.

Does insubordination become admissible under some circumstances?

It is critical to remember that disobedience is rarely a good allegation, although there are instances when employees might think that they can refuse or resist an order because of ethical considerations. Usually, it is more appropriate for an employee to discuss any concerns they may have about the instructions they have received with their supervisor, or to follow the proper escalation process, including human resources.

Have a quick question? We answered nearly 2000 FAQs.

See all blogs: Business | Corporate | Employment Law

Most recent blogs:

HRIS - The Essential Tool for HR Management

HRIS: The essential tool for HR management

HRIS systems help manage and automate payroll, timekeeping, and benefits administration, enhancing overall HR efficiency. Modern cloud-based HRIS solutions offer increased data storage, security, and seamless integration with other HR applications.
What Is a Statutory Employee - Criteria, Taxation, and Example

What is a Statutory employee? Criteria, taxation, and example

A statutory employee is a freelancer treated as an employee for tax purposes, meeting specific criteria for Social Security and Medicare. These workers receive W-2 forms, allowing tax deductions for job-related expenses, but typically lack regular employee benefits.
Disparate Impact - What it Means, How it Works, History

Disparate Impact: What it means, how it works, history

Disparate impact refers to neutral policies that disproportionately affect protected groups, impacting areas like housing and employment. Federal regulations allow evaluating these impacts to identify and prevent discrimination.
What is Employer of Record (EOR)

What is Employer of Record (EOR)?

An Employer of Record (EOR) simplifies global expansion by handling payroll, benefits, and compliance, saving businesses time and resources. Companies can achieve a global presence without the complexities and costs of establishing a new office or entity.
What is EPL insurance

What is EPL insurance?

EPL insurance protects businesses from the high costs and disruptions of employment claims, covering legal fees and settlements. Safeguard your company from claims of harassment, discrimination, and wrongful termination with comprehensive EPL insurance.
Does employer match count towards the 401k limit

Does employer match count towards the 401k limit?

Employer 401k matches do not count towards your individual contribution limit, offering extra retirement savings. In 2024, the total 401k contribution limit, including employer matches, is $69,000 or 100% of your compensation.
What are employer payroll taxes

What are employer payroll taxes

Understand employer payroll taxes and the complexity of calculating the correct amounts, including contributions to Social Security and Medicare. Learn the importance of accurate payroll tax management to avoid potential penalties.
What is a Professional Employer Organization

What is a Professional Employer Organization?

Discover how a Professional Employer Organization (PEO) can streamline your HR responsibilities and provide expert support for a fraction of the cost. Learn about the various services offered by PEOs and how they differ from staffing agencies.
Everything you need to know about employee retention credit

Everything you need to know about employee retention credit

Explore the benefits of the Employee Retention Credit, a tax incentive designed to encourage businesses to maintain their workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn how to apply retroactively for this credit and maximize your business's financial recovery.
Will my employer know if I take a 401k loan

Will my employer know if I take a 401k loan?

Learn how taking a 401k loan is visible to your employer and understand the implications and conditions they might impose. Discover privacy rules around your 401k and employer's role in setting loan terms.
The largest employer in the US

The largest employer in the US

Discover the biggest employers in the US and learn which industries dominate the employment landscape, with insights into post-Covid economic recovery. Understand job stability and opportunities within these large companies despite economic fluctuations.
How to write a retirement letter to your employer

How to write a retirement letter to your employer

Craft an effective retirement letter with these straightforward tips, ensuring a smooth transition and maintaining positive relations as you step into retirement. Discover how to communicate your retirement plans clearly and respectfully.
What is employer branding

What is employer branding?

Discover the power of employer branding to attract top talent and improve your company's reputation. Learn key strategies to enhance your organizational appeal to prospective employees.
Questions to ask in an interview as an employer

Questions to ask in an interview as an employer

Use these key interview questions to gauge whether candidates align with your company’s culture and job requirements. Evaluate potential hires effectively with tailored queries in any interview setting.
Performance Appraisal

Performance Appraisal

Performance appraisals are crucial for making decisions about promotions, bonuses, and training; they can significantly enhance employee productivity if utilized effectively. This article details how to conduct effective performance reviews and utilize them to boost engagement and performance.
Absenteeism

Absenteeism

Absenteeism in the workplace can severely impact productivity and revenue, costing billions annually. This article addresses effective strategies and the importance of a skills matrix in managing absenteeism.
Recruitment Process

Recruitment Process

Learn about the full-cycle recruitment process, its benefits, and the six primary steps from preparation to onboarding in this detailed guide. Understand how a streamlined recruitment approach enhances efficiency and candidate experience.
Employee Onboarding

Employee Onboarding

Discover how effective onboarding strengthens employee-employer relationships, enhancing retention, job satisfaction, and performance. Learn to design tailored onboarding processes to build lasting bonds with new staff in this detailed guide.
Examples Of Orientation

Examples Of Orientation

Understand how a structured job orientation can ease new employees into their roles, improving both productivity and retention. Learn about the essential elements that make up an effective job orientation program.
Interview Guides

Interview Guides

Review the benefits of using an interview guide to streamline candidate evaluations and ensure a consistent interview process across your organization. Delve into the seven essential components that make up an effective interview guide.
Employee Performance Metrics

Employee Performance Metrics

Review the essential role of employee performance metrics in evaluating workforce productivity and effectiveness within an organization. Analyze the different categories of performance metrics and how they impact strategic HR decisions.
Strategic Workforce Planning

Strategic Workforce Planning

Learn about the importance of strategic workforce planning in ensuring a business is equipped for success both now and in the future. Discover how implementing this process effectively meets a company's current and future staffing needs.
Learning Is Developmental

Learning Is Developmental

Grasp the significance of learning and development in fostering a skilled workforce capable of facing challenges and thriving in the business world. See how strategic employee training is vital for achieving organizational goals and securing a competitive advantage.
Human Resources Planning Process

Human Resources Planning Process

Understand the critical role of human resource planning in preparing a workforce for future needs and maintaining a competitive edge. Examine the structured steps and benefits of effective HR planning processes in achieving organizational goals.
Compensation Types

Compensation Types

Gain insights into the various types of employee compensation and understand how to create competitive benefit packages to attract and retain talent. Review the importance of a well-structured compensation plan in enhancing employee satisfaction and boosting retention.
Sabbatical Leave

Sabbatical Leave

Understand the benefits of sabbatical leave for both employees and employers, and the key elements of effective sabbatical policies. Explore successful sabbatical programs from companies like Autodesk and Patagonia, and their impact on workplace dynamics.
KPI HR

KPI HR

Navigate the world of HR KPIs to measure and enhance your human resources management effectiveness and align with organizational goals. Understand the vital role of KPIs in achieving fair compensation and strategic HR outcomes.

Contact our attorney.

Please tell us your story:

0 + 4 = ?