How to Handle Insubordination

Inability to do the work may appear to be insubordination.

Inability to do the work may appear to be insubordination.

Managers often have to deal with employees who don't carry out their work adequately or cause difficulties for other employees. Insubordination is a specific problem in which an employee refuses to accept the manager's authority. Managers may have to deal with bad attitudes, carelessness or incompetence. For these managers, the employee's insubordination is a challenge they have to master to keep their reputation intact. Careful handling of the situation in a professional manner, and giving the problem employee every chance to improve and avoid termination is the appropriate approach and often leads to a successful resolution.

Feedback and Advice

Take action immediately when the problem becomes apparent. Don't leave the situation unresolved to undermine your position and hurt workplace morale. Research the employee's work history and gather all the information you need to be able to discuss the situation with the employee.

Call the employee in for a private, informal meeting to discuss his work and performance generally. Ask about any problems the employee might have. Find out how the employee sees the situation.

Confirm that the insubordination is not due to a problem with the work. Check that the employee is able to perform the work and that the insubordination is not due to a flaw in your instructions, such as asking the employee to carry out unsafe or inconsistent actions.

Discuss your view of the insubordination. Make clear how you want the situation to evolve and what you consider to be acceptable behavior. Finish the meeting with clear guidelines for your future relationship with the employee.


Start documenting the insubordination if the employee's behavior persists and he ignores your guidelines.

Keep records of your written instructions to the employee and the specific tasks that you assigned which he did not complete or instructions which he did not follow.

Send the problem employee written evaluations of his work including references to the insubordination and ask for written replies. Make sure the written record clearly demonstrates a pattern of insubordination.


Apply sanctions if the employee continues to engage in insubordinate behavior. Before taking action, send the employee written details of possible sanctions if his behavior doesn't change.

Send the employee written notification linking specific behavior to specific sanctions. For example, write that failure to follow your instructions and achieve specified targets will result in a reduced bonus.

Apply the specified sanctions, making sure that your actions are in accordance with policies and procedures in the employee manual and after notifying your supervisor about the problems and your reactions.


If the employee does not change his behavior, notify him in writing that specific actions on his part could lead to termination of his employment. Add a brief summary of events leading to the present situation.

Advise the employee in writing that specific behavior on his part will lead to immediate termination of employment. If the behavior takes place, proceed with the termination.

Advise your supervisor of your intent to terminate the employment of the problem employee. Follow company procedures for employee termination while carrying it out.


  • If the employee performs valuable work and you suspect the problem might be with his present position, encourage him to apply for a transfer to another location or department.


  • The documentation must clearly and objectively give adequate reasons for the termination to avoid wrongful dismissal claims.

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About the Author

Bert Markgraf is a freelance writer with a strong science and engineering background. He started writing technical papers while working as an engineer in the 1980s. More recently, after starting his own business in IT, he helped organize an online community for which he wrote and edited articles as managing editor, business and economics. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from McGill University.

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