Insubordination often is a sign of disrespect for one's colleagues, whether they are co-workers or company leaders. It's manifested in a number of different ways, but insubordination is equivalent to defiance and disregard for workplace policies. Employers implement workplace policies to maintain structure and encourage workers to be respectful to their peers and supervisors. Disciplinary action for insubordination varies, depending on the seriousness and frequency of the infractions and, in some cases, the rank or positions of employees involved.

Work Environment

Small businesses may have work environments that are far less formal than their large corporation counterparts. Therefore, employees who work for small businesses might have the kind of working relationships that aren't constrained by titles, hierarchy and bureaucracy. The upshot is a more fluid exchange of ideas and two-way communication that fosters candid feedback between employees and their supervisors. The downside to informal, friendly working relationships is that it's difficult to establish boundaries. And workplace policies concerning employee insubordination are based on establishing boundaries.


The challenge to setting workplace discipline for insubordination is defining very subjective behaviors and actions. What's insubordinate to one supervisor may be acceptable behavior to another. In addition, the relationship one employee has with his supervisor may be very different than his co-worker's relationship with the same supervisor. Employers must provide guidelines for the kinds of remarks, behaviors or actions they consider insubordinate. Very broad definitions for insubordination include refusal to follow supervisor's directives, using disrespectful language to respond to supervisors' instructions or behaving and acting in ways the employee has previously been warned not to behave or act.

Corrective Action

Determining the appropriate corrective action for insubordination is as difficult as defining insubordination. An employee who orally challenges his supervisor's work directives without sufficiently explaining why he's refusing to work might be committing a more serious infraction than an employee who simply ignores her supervisor. In each case, corrective action could be a written warning or an informal, in-person discussion. Employees who repeatedly refuse to complete work assignments or are overtly disrespectful to their supervisors could be subject to suspension or termination, depending on their language and behavior.


Corrective action also can vary depending on the rank or position of the employees involved. The hierarchy in most organizations establishes a closer relationship between an employee and a supervisor; a greater distance exists between an employee and a company manager, director or executive. Based on organizational structure, insubordinate behavior on the part of an employee in her interaction with a company executive usually is far more serious based simply on rank and hierarchy. Assuming the company executive has the right to hire and fire, punishment for more egregious forms of insubordination could be immediate termination.

Policy Guidelines

Setting guidelines for punishment and disciplinary or corrective action for insubordination starts with defining insubordination. Every type of infraction can't be listed in the employee handbook or workplace policies, but a fundamental policy that requires respectful behavior among employees at all levels gives supervisors and managers latitude in determining what insubordination is based on the type of relationship they have with their employees. Workplace policies that articulate corrective action should specify what happens on the first and subsequent occurrences of insubordination and how the frequency of insubordination affects an employee's status.