Do you know what to do when faced with gross insubordination?


a dog with a pirate hat representing gross insubordination

First of all we need to look at what constitutes gross insubordination. We then need to consider what are the appropriate steps to take when dealing with gross insubordination. This will involve producing a policy and procedure to deal with gross insubordination in the workplace.

What is gross insubordination?

Insubordination occurs when an employee deliberately disobeys ,or ignores, a legitimate instruction from a superior. It goes to the heart of the employee/ employer relationship. Where a lawful instruction is given in good faith by an employer, or someone placed in a position of authority by the employer, it must be carried out if it is within the capability and job description of the employee.

This raises a number of points worth considering:

  1. The instruction must be legitimate. If it is unlawful or unsafe then the employee is justified in refusing to act on it.

  2. It must be given in good faith. Where the instruction is given merely to embarass the employee or cause harm by an employer, rather than in the normal course of the working day, an employer cannot rely on the defence of gross misconduct. The absence of good faith tarnishes this defence.

Abusive language by a worker towards supervisors can also be considered insubordination and needs to be dealt with.




How do I deal with gross insubordination?

When faced with an insubordinate worker your initial reaction may be to dismiss them on the spot. You should resist that impulse and consider the following:

  • How was the order communicated to the employee? Was it conveyed in a clear manner?

  • Did the employee understand what was required? Was the order disobeyed intentionally?

  • Did anything in the workplace affect the worker? Have other workers refused before without being reprimanded? Did a coworker provoke the employee? Does the worker know what is unacceptable behaviour?

  • Was the order ligitimate?

  • How disruptive was the refusal? Did it have a major impact on production or could it be fixed easily? How did it affect the other workers? Did it affect safety at work?


What can I do to discipline the insubordinate worker?

If after considering the above, you believe that the workers actions consitiute insubordination you need to follow your disciplinary policy strictly. Even when you feel justified in dismissing the employee on the spot, you need to take a deep breath and follow your disciplinary procedure. If the employee’s behaviour was such that summary dismissal was justified, you have the peace of mind that comes from knowing that you followed the correct procedures when terminating the employment of the insubordinate employee. It is a fact that most unfair dismissal awards in Ireland are the result of the employer failing to follow the correct procedures.


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When should I impliment a progressive step disciplinary policy?

Where the behaviour falls short of gross insubordination you should follow your disciplinary policy.

This involves various levels of reprimand based on the severity of the behaviour. It usually involves steps such as verbal warning, written warning and then termination. It should allow for commencement at any level where the conduct has been such as to justify starting at that level. For example, if the behaviour was so bad that a written warning is required, without having to start with a verbal one.

Create an insubordination policy today

If you have an insubordination policy, you should review it to ensure that it is fit for purpose. If you do not have a policy, then don’t delay get one today. It can save you money and trouble.

Where can I get more information?

See our article on disciplinary policy here

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Image courtesy modernrockstar, with some alteration (banner) , cc.15


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