The word “discipline” triggers a whole series of emotions for small business owners. There’s that knot-in-the-stomach moment when you realize you need to address a problem, followed by confronting the employee with the issue and then dealing with potential repercussions.

It’s far from enjoyable, but addressing misconduct immediately, clearly and consistently is important if you want to create a culture of accountability, reliability and efficiency. When employees know insubordination is not tolerated, they’ll respect you and help police those who wander off the desired path.

Understanding Your Business Helps Define Your Policies

So, what exactly constitutes insubordination? It depends on your business. Some companies require employees to punch a clock precisely at required hours, while others may only care that employees meet project deadlines, regardless of what hours they work. As long as your staff is productive and working together as a team toward a common purpose, that’s what matters most.

Flexibility is good for business, but being wishy-washy isn’t. Turning the other cheek when you know a problem is festering will likely lead to bigger and more challenging issues. If your spidey senses are tingling, it’s usually a sign something needs to be done.

For example, if you have a strict time policy, and one of your star employees starts coming in late, your initial instinct might be to let it slide. But chances are good the rank and file are well aware that the teacher’s pet is getting a free pass. That’s not fair to the rest of the team – especially if other employees have been reprimanded for the same offense. This kind of favoritism creates a divide among your staff that isn’t always easy to reverse without excessive turnover. Or worse, it can lead to a discrimination lawsuit if employees feel they aren’t treated fairly. Talk about headaches!

When witnessing or hearing of someone bending the rules, address it immediately and document it. Don’t wait for the perfect time. Handle it right away; be done with it, and move on to more productive matters.

Punish or Reform?

The purpose of discipline is to correct undesirable behavior, not punish an employee. View discipline as a process that requires you and the offending employee to work together to solve a problem. Make it clear that your goal is to help them get back on the straight and narrow. The fundamental task, when possible, is to create a situation that encourages the employee to work with you to identify causes of problematic behavior, and to take action to correct those problems.

Don’t Tolerate These Undesirable Behaviors

Back to our original question: What exactly constitutes insubordination? Here are 12 tried-and-true areas that can impact your bottom line if not addressed quickly:

  1. Time abuse (excessive tardiness, long lunches or leaving early)
  2. Not notifying a supervisor of an absence (planned or not)
  3. Disrespecting a coworker, client or vendor
  4. Rude, abusive or inappropriate language in the workplace
  5. Not following clearly defined rules or policies, such as not wearing safety equipment, or disregarding health standards in restaurants
  6. Conducting personal business on company time or with company property
  7. Dishonesty (a nice way of saying “lying”)
  8. Harassment, bullying or discrimination
  9. Use of banned workplace substances, such as drugs or alcohol
  10. Possession of weapons (if not permitted by state or local law)
  11. Theft
  12. Dress code violations

These are the biggies, but you may have more, depending on the nature of your business. If someone’s actions are disruptive or offensive to other employees or customers, it’s worth addressing.

The best way to deter undesirable behavior is to clearly state in an employee manual what is and isn’t acceptable. And, even more important, make sure you have an employee policy that clearly illustrates how you address disciplinary issues.

Handling insubordination consistently, objectively and legally is the best defense against potential employee lawsuits. The Progressive Discipline Smart App guides you through a step-by-step disciplinary process to address workplace offenses and protect your business.

Key Takeaways
  • Identify what is and isn’t acceptable behavior in your company
  • Don’t play favorites – treat all employees the same way
  • Address insubordination immediately to avoid morale issues
  • Make sure employees know what behavior is undesirable and that you have a process for disciplinary action.