Insubordination in the workplace is an issue that should be dealt with systematically. Depending on the type of insubordination, a first offense typically results in a verbal warning, followed by a written warning and -- if nothing can be done to correct the issue -- termination. However, rehiring and retraining is costly. Employers should confer with troublesome employees in private and ask them why they feel the need to be difficult. It's possible that employees have grievances that they simply do not know how to express, are burnt out, or suffer from personal issues. This type of behavior can often be addressed through better communication. Recruiters should also carefully evaluate applicants not just for their skills, but their attitudes as well.


One common form of insubordination is the refusal to comply with a supervisor's request. Aside from the disrespectful nature of this type of behavior, it disrupts productivity and ultimately harms the company's performance. Employees have a responsibility to follow instructions unless those instructions pose an immediate threat to their safety. In these cases, employees are protected by Occupational Safety & Health Administration regulations. Otherwise, management has the right to discipline employees for failing to follow through on directives from supervisors. The type of discipline depends on individual company policies as well as management's discretion.


Unhappy or disgruntled employees might attempt to undermine a supervisor's authority. This type of insubordination can easily spread throughout the workplace if it is not dealt with swiftly. The result is a toxic work environment, where employees will become accustomed to -- or even enjoy -- gossiping about the organization and its management. Management should first speak with the employee and ask her what prompted this behavior. If she has a legitimate grievance, it is important to remind her that she is welcome to discuss it privately in a professional manner with a supervisor.

Verbal Abuse

There is no excuse for profane or abusive language in the workplace, especially against a supervisor. Not only is this rude and disrespectful, it also reflects badly on the organization -- especially if such language is uttered in front of customers or clients. Power and position are irrelevant in this case. Even if the supervisor is being verbally abusive to a subordinate, it still constitutes insubordination. Every employee, regardless of power or position, must adhere to company policies and speak with other employees in a respectful and professional manner. Employees who verbally abuse associates and supervisors should be given a written warning. Continued verbal abuse is grounds for termination.

Physical Abuse

The most severe kind of insubordination occurs when an employee makes a physical threat or assault against a supervisor. While other forms of insubordination follow a progressive disciplinary process, violence provides a justifiable reason for immediate termination. Furthermore, the victim has the right to pursue criminal charges if he feels that they are warranted.