Can My Employer Terminate Me for Insubordination for Not Talking to Her?

Stern is one thing; an unfriendly employee who refuses to talk can be problematic.

Stern is one thing; an unfriendly employee who refuses to talk can be problematic.

Supervisor-employee relationships needn't be the same as two buddies who work together, but for a productive working relationship and job satisfaction, it's almost impossible to get around not talking to your employer. Although it's not a crime or a terminable offense to refrain from spilling all your secrets to your employer, it could be a strike against you when performance appraisal time rolls around if you're rated as the employee with a chip on her shoulder. And not talking to your employer may very well be perceived as a chip.


Insubordination is hard to define because so many employers have a different set of rules for the ways that employees and supervisors interact. Plus, supervisor-employee relationships vary, so what's insubordinate in one work environment could be business as usual at another company. Standard policies for insubordination don't really exist because there are so many variables and so many different ways to define insubordination. In a casual work environment, a supervisor might ignore an employee's eye roll when she asks that employee to handle a task that's outside her job duties. In another work environment, an eye roll might be perceived as disrespectful and insubordinate behavior.

Personal Traits

If you're not speaking to your employer -- at all -- you could be disciplined or sternly counseled on professional and respectful workplace communication practices. However, if you rarely say, "Good morning" when you walk into the office or you're simply not the type to engage in small talk, it's unlikely that your supervisor will consider your behavior as insubordinate. Odd and rude, maybe, but not necessarily insubordinate. It's also unlikely that your employer will fire you based on your personality traits. Unless you made a 180-degree attitude change since you interviewed for the job, it's probable that the employer already knew about your quirks before you came onboard.

Employee Counseling

Instead of being fired for not talking to your supervisor, constructive feedback could be an option if your failure to interact becomes problematic. Constructive feedback will address the reasons why you don't feel it's necessary to talk to your employer and whether you simply limit your interaction with your employer or absolutely refuse to talk to her even when she's giving you work directives. If it's the latter, anticipate counseling for possible insubordination. One of the elements of insubordination is refusal to acknowledge that your supervisor is giving you a work directive, according to New York City-based labor and employment lawyer Keisha-Ann G. Gray, with the Proskauer law firm, in her October 2011 post on Human Resource Executive Online titled, "Defiant and Disrespectful."

Terminable Offense

Determining what constitutes a terminable offense requires that you and your employer separate attitude from behavior. Employers can counsel you on behavior, but reprimanding or even firing you based on attitude is a subjective matter against which you might be able to successfully argue is wrong. You could argue that you just don't have the type of engaging personality where you believe it's necessary to smile and greet every person you encounter. But refusing to speak to your employer, time after time, and especially when your supervisor is trying to talk to you about an important work issue, could be a problem.

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About the Author

Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Ruth resides in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.

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