January 30, 2011
Terminating an Employee for Insubordination

Do your supervisors know the requirements and laws regarding termination of an employee for insubordination? Do they understand when such a firing may not be appropriate? Below is some information to convey to your supervisors in this regard.

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Insubordination is another good reason for firing an employee. Most courts will view insubordination as legitimate grounds for termination. But in order to fire an employee for insubordination, you must be able to demonstrate that:

  • The employee understood the order
  • The order was not illegal -- in other words, did not involve breaking a law or violating regulations, such as ordering an employee to dump known pollutants into a river or operate hazardous equipment without training or certification
  • The order was important and not inconsequential
  • The employee was required to comply with the order because it was within the scope of his or her job
  • The employee's act of insubordination was intentional

But there is more to insubordination. Generally, the courts will accept termination for insubordination when the offense is serious -- for example, constantly countermanding direct instructions from supervisors, providing trade secrets to competitors, or denigrating the company in public forums:

  • Firing an employee for mouthing off to you in the heat of the moment would not be considered a serious offense
  • Also, in all but the most severe incidents of insubordination, you want to be sure you have considered alternatives before you terminate an employee. For example, you could try counseling or a series of disciplinary actions first
  • And finally, make sure you have documented all incidents of insubordination clearly and objectively

It's important to know when termination for insubordination is justified under the company's termination policy.

The above information comes from BLR's presentation "Grounds for Termination: What Managers and Supervisors Need to Know." For more information on all the training courses BLR has to offer, go to our Employee and Manager Training page.

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