Fool proof guide to dealing with insubordination in the workplace

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Insubordinate employees can be a real pain in the backside for many employers. Having to deal with insubordinate employees who have poor attitudes and don’t follow instructions or respect their employers can be a huge drag in the workplace and can cause major problems for any business, small businesses especially. This is because small businesses, having fewer employees, rely heavily on each employee to perform and act as expected. If insubordination is not addressed promptly, it can spread rapidly among the workplace and infect the attitudes of other employees. This Business Kitz guide can assist you, as an employer, in swiftly and fairly deal with insubordination in the workplace.

A step-by-step guide to dealing with insubordination

1.       Talk with the employee

The first step in dealing with an insubordinate employee should be to simply have a discussion with them. Whilst this may seem like an informal and unnecessary step, an initial discussion will lead to a formal performance management process. During this initial discussion you must address the issues that have arisen with the employee and set out their required expectations as an employee of the workplace. A written record of the conversation should also be recorded and signed by both parties to confirm what was discussed and agreed upon.  

2.       Performance management

If employee insubordination continues after the initial discussion, you can enter into a formal performance management process. The intention of this process is for the employee and employer to come to a mutual agreement about how the performance or conduct needs to change. After explaining to the employee why you are still not satisfied with their performance or behaviour, you can propose a formal performance plan. The plan is intended to support the employee to achieve the changes set out in the performance agreement. This plan should include strategies the employee can use to improve their performance and should also set out a series of performance review dates. On these dates, the employer and employee should meet again to discuss the employee’s progress in meeting the requirements of the performance plan and agreement.

You can find a number of templates on the Australian Fair Work Ombudsman (AFWO)  that may be useful in managing employee performance and behaviour.

3.       Formal warning

If the employee insubordination still persists, the next step is to issue a formal warning letter. According to AFWO this letter should include:

  • Details of the performance or conduct issue of concern;
  • What has been discussed with the employee about the issue;
  • What the employer will do to assist;
  • Details of how the employee performed against an action plan; and
  • A reasonable timeframe in which the changes or improvements need to occur.

4.       Notice of termination

If after following all of the steps above there has been no improvement to the employees performance or behaviour, you may need to consider letting them go. If you do decide to terminate their employment, you will need to issue a formal letter of termination. You will need to give the employee appropriate notice of their termination, and this will depend on any relevant terms in their employment contract as well as the National Employment Standard.

5.       Summary dismissal

Summary dismissal is the immediate termination of an employee without notice or warning. To summarily dismiss an employee, their misconduct must be so serious that it would not be reasonable to continue their employment. Common reasons for summary dismissal include theft, fraud and assault. However, insubordination can be serious misconduct attracting summary dismissal in certain circumstances.

Insubordination of employees can be a major problem for all businesses as they rely on their employees to carry out tasks as instructed. Unchecked insubordination can quickly spread to other employees. Because of this, it is important to deal with employees who don’t follow reasonable instructions.

Legal advice

Dealing with insubordinate employees can be a delicate process to navigate. If you’re unsure how to handle this situation or need clarification on any of the steps above, we recommend seeking legal advice. Our sister company Legal Kitz  can assist with ensuring that your concerns are addressed and can provide you with advice that is tailored to your situation. You can book a free 30-minute consultation with our experienced and highly qualified team via our website now.