Insubordination: I Don’t Want To And You Can’t Make Me

Steven Cesare, Ph.D.

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A business owner from Michigan called me the other day to talk about a disagreement she had with one of her managers. Apparently, in a mode to drive accountability, the owner decided to install a GPS tracking device on all company vehicles; a standard practice for all company vehicles and/or cell phones, adopted by many landscapers across the country, fully legal, and highly recommended for those of you coming late to the party. That said, it really is better to be late, than sorry.

As part of this program rollout, the owner informed all affected staff they must now use only company vehicles and cease driving their personal vehicles while on company business.

One manager openly defied the owner, verbally resisting the new program, alleging the owner was “micro-managing” the team, stating publicly, “I don’t want to drive a company vehicle and you can’t make me!”

Oh really?

I’ll take this bet. Anyone want to go in with me?

While virtue-signaling his politically correct revulsion of micro-management, I am reasonably confident, somewhere in his histrionic tantrum, he did not want to relinquish his 56 cents/mile reimbursement for the personal use of his car for company business.

Steve, you’re too cynical.

First off, monitoring and tracking company resources are not “micro-management.” It is called accountability. Kind of like monitoring an employee’s use of a gas credit card each month, right? But of course, no employee would ever consider using a company gas credit card for personal use, now, would they?

And you think, I’m cynical?

For the next couple of days, the manager was seen using his personal vehicle while reviewing job sites, visiting clients, and attending off-site meetings. Despite being reminded of the new company policy by the owner, the manager remained defiant.

The owner upset with the manager’s childish reaction and rebellious tone, finally called me. True to form, I asked the owner if her company had EPLI coverage and if the employee signed the current version of the Employee Handbook. Confidently, she replied “yes” to both points. Going one level deeper, I asked if her Employee Handbook contained a standard of conduct prohibiting insubordination. “Yes,” it was included in the Employee Handbook.

In general, aside from state law subtleties, insubordination is typically defined as that situation which occurs “when an employee willfully disobeys or disregards a superior’s legitimate directive”; in some cases, abusive language by employees toward supervisors and others can also be considered insubordination. It is commonly understood that companies may not have to maintain a formal policy in place to fire or discipline an insubordinate employee; however, such a policy can be extremely useful if a company must ever need to defend its actions in court.

Play it safe. Include the policy in your Employee Handbook just like the Michigan business owner did.

With the fundamental elements in place, I recommended the business owner document all the employee’s historical comments and actions into a timeline and proceed with a written reprimand of the employee for violating the company policy of only using company vehicles while performing business activities and for demonstrating insubordination.

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Steve Cesare Ph.D.

has more than 25 years of Human Resources experience. Prior to joining The Harvest Group, Steve worked with Bemus Landscape, Jack in the Box, the County of San Diego, Citicorp, and NASA. Steve earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Old Dominion University, and has authored 68 human resources journal articles. As a member of The Harvest Group, Steve’s areas of expertise include: staffing, legal compliance, wage and hour issues, training, and employee safety.  Read Steve's full bio.