What is the “legal” definition of insubordination?

Posted 10-12-1997

Rita Risser’s response:

The word insubordinate can be seen as in = not, subordinate = subject to the authority of another. Someone who is insubordinate is refusing to recognize the authority of the employer. In essence, they are quitting because they no longer are willing to work for you.

Insubordination, thus, is always grounds for immediate termination, unless the order being refused is illegal, immoral or unethical. It is permissible to fire an employee for refusing to complete a task the employee deems trivial or unimportant.

Information here is correct at the time it is posted. Case decisions cited here may be reversed. Please do not rely on this information without consulting an attorney first.


About the Author:

Rita M. Risser Chai is the founder of Fair Measures. An attorney in California for 20 years and now an attorney in Hawaii, she authored the Prentice Hall book, Stay Out of Court! The Manager’s Guide to Preventing Employee Lawsuits. She developed most of the curriculum used by Fair Measures, created the firm’s first website praised in HR Magazine, and wrote numerous articles on employment law including one on best practice harassment prevention training published in the magazine of the American Society for Training and Development (now ATD). She taught Law and Human Resources at the University of California, Santa Cruz, for eight years, and has presented four times at the annual conventions of the Hawaii Society of Human Resource Management.