How to Deal With Disrespect or Insubordination


How to Deal With Disrespect or Insubordination

If you have an employee who is vocally challenging, rude, aggressive, militant or point blank refuses to follow a reasonable instruction you should address it appropriately.  To turn the other cheek could be giving out the wrong signals that such behaviour is acceptable at work and there is a risk that others may follow suit. 

I often advise on cases where an employee has been allowed to get away with this type of behaviour over a period of time and in some cases have even point blank refused to follow a reasonable instruction because they simply do not agree with or do not like the task they are being asked to do.  I sometimes find the reason they have got away with it for so long is because ‘that's just the way the employee is', or to avoid the employee ‘kicking off further'. Things that go unaddressed rarely get better without intervention. I sometimes refer to this situation as the tail wagging the dog and the employer clearly needs to get back in control.

Of course, in an ideal world everybody at work will treat one another with respect, but the reality is there will always be the odd one (or more) who think they can be rude to others and sometimes think if they do not agree with ‘management' they simply refuse to follow the request.  In short this is misconduct and could in some cases be considered as insubordination. 

So what should you do?

Firstly it is always best practice to have a clearly defined ‘rule book' more commonly known as an employee handbook.  The handbook should always set out the expect standards of behaviour and possible consequences if they fall foul of the expectations.

Nip it in the bud, at the first sign of disrespect, rudeness or aggression towards you (or others) take the individual to one side and let them know this conduct is not acceptable and will not be tolerated, remind them of what the standards are (as set out in the handbook) and you hope reminding them will be the end of it. Because some people simply cannot behave themselves, it is always best to record the conversation has taken place. You can issue an improvement notice which documents that the conversation has taken place and you can refer to it if they reoffend.

Where an improvement notice has not had the desired effect, where an employee continues to behave in the way described above, where an employee has point blank refused to follow a reasonable request, or in more serious cases of insubordination this should be addressed through the disciplinary procedure. Your disciplinary policies list what is considered to be gross misconduct and in the list you should include serious insubordination, threatening behaviour and refusal to comply with a reasonable request. That's not to say you would consider dismissal on the first offence of an employee being rude, but you may consider this as gross misconduct in serious cases where an employee is using foul language directed at you (or others), uses threats or blatantly refuses to carry out a reasonable instruction.

If this rings any bells with you and you would like to discuss a similar situation (or anything else), please give me a call.

Angie.  You can contact Angie Dansey at

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