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Written by

Tiffany Clark

Reviewed by

VidCruiter Editorial Team

Last Modified

Apr 17, 2024
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Insubordination is the indirect or direct refusal by an employee to perform a reasonable, ethical, and legal directive from a supervisor or manager. An employee is insubordinate when they willfully disobey, ignore, or refuse to follow a valid direction from a supervisor or other superior within an organization. 


For insubordination to occur, the directive must have been acknowledged or understood. Equally important, the employee must have the deliberate intent to defy the instruction for it to qualify as insubordination. 


Insubordination consists of the following elements or steps:


  1. A manager or superior issues a directive, either in written format or verbally.

  2. The directive is reasonable, ethical, and legal. 

  3. The employee understands and acknowledges the directive.

  4. The employee refuses to follow the directive, deliberately hinders productivity, or sabotages work. 


In the workplace, insubordination is a disruptive force that can potentially challenge any organization. This is particularly true in today’s modern workplace, where mutual respect and collaboration are essential to achieve productivity and maximize the chances of success. Beyond creating friction between an employee and a manager, insubordination can have far-reaching effects, including:


  • Damaged morale

  • Decreased productivity

  • Undermined credibility in an authority figure


In most cases, insubordination is an offense with grounds for disciplinary action. In some instances, the employee may be issued a written warning. However, more extreme cases of insubordination may result in the termination of the employee. 


Insubordination Examples


The most common example of insubordination is an employee’s refusal to complete a task that is within the scope of their job. For example, a barista’s job duties might include wiping down tables at the end of a shift. If a manager instructs the employee to wipe down the tables and the barista refuses to do so, this can be seen as insubordinate. 


One often misunderstood example of insubordination is an employee’s failure to report for work. When a worker accepts employment with an organization, they agree to a specific set of standards and rules. This generally includes agreeing to work on certain days at specific times. If an employee refuses to report to work at the scheduled time, they are being insubordinate. 


The most overt type of insubordination is disrespecting authority figures. For example, an employee might create a hostile environment or conflict with a manager by using vulgar language toward them or shouting at them. 

Related Terms


refers to an employee’s failure to act by following rules, orders, or accepted standards.

Authority Hierarchy

is the structured ranking of positions within a company. This hierarchy typically forms the basis for understanding the dynamics of insubordination.

Constructive Disobedience

is not considered to be insubordination. Constructive disobedience occurs when an employee disobeys an order on ethical grounds, while insubordination is characterized by willful defiance.

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