In the workplace, there is a clearly defined hierarchy of employees. Employees are required to obey any direct orders their supervisors make as well as any orders that come from supervisors higher in the chain of command. Refusing to obey an order is known as insubordination, which can be a fireable offense. What constitutes insubordination is not always clear, however. Although certain actions, like calling a supervisor a foul name or outright refusing to comply with company policy, are clearly acts of insubordination, actions made through misunderstandings, actions taken out of context and instances of employees exercising certain rights can also be incorrectly labeled as insubordination, and in those instances, you may be able to refute the accusation.
What to Do When You Are Falsely Accused of Insubordination
After an act perceived as insubordination, your supervisor may write an insubordination query discussing the incident. This letter outlines the nature of the transgression, states the company’s insubordination policy and how you violated it and states the consequences you will face because of the transgression. You could be terminated, or the query could serve as a warning and reminder that if you violate the insubordination policy again, you will be fired.
If you feel you were falsely accused of insubordination, avoid discussing the issue with your coworkers or getting angry with your supervisor. The first thing to do is to determine the nature of the false accusation. Were you accused of using foul language in the workplace despite similar language being used among employees every day? Did you refuse an order because complying would have created a safety hazard or gone against your personal ethics? The specific accusation you face and the actual circumstances of the incident will guide your response to the accusation.
Read More: Termination Due to Insubordination
How Do I Reply to a Query on Insubordination?
If you feel the accusation is inaccurate, you may write a rebuttal to the supervisor to explain your position. Sometimes, legitimate actions taken to avoid an accident or public embarrassment can be taken out of context and assumed to be insubordination. It is also possible for an insubordination claim to be used as a form of retaliation against an employee who engaged in a protected activity, like filing a sexual harassment claim or acting as a whistleblower.
In your rebuttal letter, explain the circumstances surrounding the incident noted in the original query and include direct, factual responses to any inaccurate claims the query made. Address the specific claims made in the query and explain why you took the action you took or how the action was misrepresented in the query.
How to Fight an Insubordination Claim
Fighting an insubordination claim often involves more than responding to it. When you want to clear your name and avoid future repercussions from the claim, you should work with an experienced employment lawyer to develop a robust response. If necessary, you may file a counterclaim, such as a harassment or retaliation claim.
To fight an insubordination claim, gather all documents relevant to the charge, such as the original query, your response letter, testimonies from colleagues who witnessed the incident and copies of any company policies or laws that support the action you chose to take. Deliver this file to the supervisor one level above the supervisor who filed the original insubordination charge. After reviewing the claim, the rebuttal, and the supporting evidence the employee provided, the higher level supervisor may have the charge removed from your record or agree with the original charge, in which case it remains on your record and you must face its consequences, which may include termination or filing suit against your employer. If you do have an attorney, give everything to her that you receive from your employer related to the incident and seek her advice on how to proceed if the insubordination charge is not removed or if you're terminated.
When you are charged with insubordination, you can refute the charge by demonstrating why and how it is inaccurate in a rebuttal letter.
- Always ask questions of your supervisor if you do not understand an order or receive conflicting orders. Questions cannot be considered insubordination unless you ask them in an abusive manner.
- If you cannot perform job duties due to a disability, always notify your supervisor in advance so that you won't be accused of insubordination for failure to comply.
- In many cases, it is best to fulfill an order and then file a complaint to avoid an insubordination charge.
- Never speak rudely to your supervisor, as this is grounds for insubordination. If your supervisor is rude or otherwise abusive, file a complaint with his supervisor.
Lindsay Kramer is a freelance writer and editor who has been working in the legal niche since 2012. Her primary focus areas within this niche are family law and personal injury law. Lindsay works closely with a few legal marketing agencies, providing blog posts, website content and marketing materials to law firms across the United States.