Firing for insubordination – the right way
  • leadership
  • Blog post

Firing for insubordination – the right way

Suppose a difficult employee has just cursed you, his supervisor, to your face.

You’re mad, and you have a right to be. The guy’s behavior is completely out of line. And everybody else in the department heard him. This is clearly a serious challenge to your authority.

So, are you justified in firing him on the spot for insubordination? After all, your organization’s policy specifically identifies insubordination as grounds for termination.

Answer: probably not.

When employees get mad
Here’s why: Employees who are fired abruptly are far more likely to sue than those who are given warnings and an opportunity to change their ways. That’s because when they’re surprised, they get mad, and nobody thinks more about suing than an angry ex-employee.

So if you discharge the person ASAP, you may do more damage to your organization than you would be preventing.

Well, what ARE you supposed to do then? Just sit back and take the insubordinate employee’s guff? Not at all.

3 guidelines
Instead, follow these three guidelines:

  • Document the insubordinate behavior. Make sure you have witnesses sign off on what they saw and heard
  • Apply progressive discipline. Working with HR, address unacceptable behavior with verbal warnings, written warnings, suspensions and, of course, termination when necessary.
  • Enforce your policy on insubordination consistently. You might be tempted to give an ordinarily cheerful and reliable employee more rope on the insubordination scale than a surly one, but this is dangerous and may be discriminatory.

But note: There are times when you may be justified in acting immediately to terminate or otherwise discipline an insubordinate employee. Depending on your organization’s policy, such times might include violence or threats, damage to company property, or creation of safety hazards.

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