Serious insubordination

09 July 2019

Despite your best efforts as an employer, it’s not always possible to avoid difficult situations at your workplace. If a member of staff behaves to such an extent you need to make a decisive action, what can you legally do? This guide explains your options.

What is serious insubordination?

It’s an act of gross misconduct where an employee doesn’t follow the instruction your business provides. The act must be so serious that it breaks the trust or confidence you have in them.

Serious act of insubordination examples

Typically, you can classify it as aggressive, rude, or threatening behaviour. This may include:

  • Refusing to complete tasks set by your business.
  • Showing disrespect to superiors, such as with vulgar or mocking jibes.
  • Directly challenging management decisions.
  • Being difficult in less overt gestures, such as eye-rolling or tutting.
  • Criticising your business on their social media accounts.
  • Responding with many excuses and refusing to apologise.
  • Blaming others for performance errors.

While those are a few examples, your business can define them in your company handbook and employment contract. You should support that process with a fair disciplinary procedure. Remember that in the event of any misconduct, you should handle the situation carefully. If an employee is upset by your handling of an investigation, they can make an employment tribunal claim.

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How to spot serious insubordination

It’s not always easy to tell if a staff member is behaving poorly. But there are tell-tale signs, such as:

  • Not acting on tasks set for them.
  • Refusing to act on instructions, despite clearly understanding them.
  • Total refusal to work.

With the above in mind, you should be cautious about considering gross insubordination examples that aren’t this HR issue. Try not to misinterpret some of the following actions as troublesome:

  • A staff member misunderstanding a task and completing it incorrectly—or not at all.
  • If an employee questions the legality of a task you’ve asked of them.
  • An employee questioning the ethics of a task.
  • Staff members challenging you in a private conversation about a direct order.

How to respond to serious insubordination

Although you must be fair in your response, it’s your legal right as a business to respond with disciplinary action. While there are less severe actions, such as sending your employee home for the day with a warning, there are more final approaches to take. Suspension is an option, for example, or even recommend counselling if it’s apparent the issue is due to the likes of alcohol or drug abuse. It’s good business practice to consider the act of serious subordination and what it means for your business. You can then discuss with a line manager the best course of action to take. But it really is a case-by-case consideration as the exact incident can vary so widely.

In the event of ending a contract

If it’s a particularly bad case, then it may even warrant a contract termination. This may be because your employee, by being seriously insubordinate, has lost the respect of higher management and colleagues. But insubordination can build up over time, so be sure to note this and provide warnings for the staff member. This will provide them with reasonable time to correct the problem. However, if it reaches a point where they haven’t corrected their actions then you can move to terminate their contract of employment. You must explain your actions to the staff member and let them know they have the right to appeal. But if your decision is fair, and you can prove this, then the contract will end.

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