What to ask before punishing insubordination

An employee who doesn’t do what is asked of him or her is not necessarily insubordinate. Before disciplining for insubordination, delve a little deeper into the employee’s resistance. Ask the following:

Was the order clearly expressed? Did she understand it was a direct command? Was the order given so the employee knew she was supposed to perform a task? Or was it phrased ambiguously? There is a big difference between stating “I want you to …” versus asking “Can you … .” With the latter phrasing, the employee may assume she had the option of not performing the task or not doing it immediately.

Did the employee break a workplace rule? If you can show the employee knew about the rule beforehand, then you can probably show that he consciously disobeyed the order and, therefore, acted in an insubordinate manner.

Were there extenuating circumstances? The employee might have a good reason for saying no. For example, she may not have the required skills or time to effectively carry out the task.

Did the employee challenge the order? A challenge shows that he understood the order, but intentionally refused to do it.

Did the employee believe that it would be dangerous to perform the task, either for herself or someone else? An employee cannot be considered insubordinate for failing to comply with a request related to unsafe or illegal acts.