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How to Write Up an Employee for Insubordination

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Writing up an employee for insubordination requires keeping three goals in mind. First, you must detail the insubordinate conduct, which the Society for Human Resource Management defines as willful refusal to obey a manager's legitimate order, or disrespectful behavior toward superiors. Next, cite the policies that your worker violated through his insubordination. Finally, state what the employee must do differently if he expects to keep working for you, and the potential penalties for not correcting his behavior.

Consider the Context

Analyze the situation before writing your letter. For example, if the issue is abusive language, you must show that it wasn't normal work-related conversation – and you didn't provoke the employee, according to the BizFilings website's May 2012 article, "Properly Handling Employee Insubordination Requires Having a Policy in Place." Also, evaluate how well the employee understood your directive, how his actions affected business, and the underlying reasons for his behavior – since employment law protects workers from carrying out illegal or unethical activities. Also, consider his record. A verbal warning will usually suffice to deal with atypical behavior.

Document the Behavior

Note the time, place and manner of an employee's insubordination and the steps you've taken to address it. Though it seems tedious to record minor incidents alongside major ones, proper documentation is essential in defending against a legal claim, advises Colleen Giallorenzo, a human resources specialist writing for the Insperity website. Detailing the "who, what, when, where and why" of each incident also lays the groundwork to explain why you see the worker's behavior as insubordinate.

Explain the Misconduct

Describe the insubordinate act objectively. Avoid inflammatory terms such as "attitude" that could be presented in court as examples of an arbitrary management style, says Paramount Pictures executive Paul Falcone in his essay, "Insubordinate Behavior: Deal With It Before It Destroys Employee Morale." Say something like, "Bob, you engaged in insubordinate conduct by raising your voice after I asked for File X by the end of today. Such behavior violates our company's conduct and performance standards." Then cite the relevant policy language that applies to the situation.

Outline the Consequences

Finish your notice by summarizing how the employee should act, and what to expect if he doesn't make the required changes. In Bob's case, for example, you'll tell him that he can't raise his voice anymore and needs to discuss future deadline issues privately. Conclude by saying that failure to follow these rules means additional sanctions, including dismissal. As Falcone states, you don't want the employee to misunderstand your expectations for handling future disputes.

Other Considerations

Reread your letter before reviewing it with the employee. Make sure your proposed disciplinary approach fits the offense. If you're satisfied, prepare copies for his personnel file and the human resources department, if necessary. Clamping down on minor offenses may sour office morale, but you want no doubt about what acceptable conduct means. Consider adding policy language that defines refusal to obey an order – or lack of respect for a supervisor – as insubordinate conduct that will subject the employee to progressive discipline.


Ralph Heibutzki's articles have appeared in the "All Music Guide," "Goldmine," "Guitar Player" and "Vintage Guitar." He is also the author of "Unfinished Business: The Life & Times Of Danny Gatton," and holds a journalism degree from Michigan State University.

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