Insubordination and Insolence

Sep 7, 2015

Insubordination and Insolence
What is the difference between insubordination and insolence? There is a thin line between the two – the one could easily be confused with the other.
Insubordination and insolence are different concepts. The difference lies in the employee’s behaviour. An employer must know the difference between these two terms, especially when it comes to formulating a disciplinary charge against an employee.
What is insubordination?
Here are the facts you need to know:

  • When an employee refuses to carry out a lawful, reasonable instruction. One that the employer has given him.
  • In such a case, the employer can dismiss the employee, but only if the nature of refusal is deliberate and serious.
  • It is not about an employee being disrespectful. As the CCMA outlines, insubordination is to do with refusals.
  • It’s a very serious transgression.

An example of insubordination: An employee is instructed to fetch a file from the cabinet for the manager. The employee responds, ‘Fetch it yourself!
What is insolence?
Take note about the differences in comparison to insubordination:

  • It is a slippery concept. But it is to do with offensive, disrespectful conduct.
  • In such a case, the employer can discipline the employee.
  • An employee can only be dismissed for insolence if it persists.
  • It is a less serious transgression than insubordination.

An example of insolence: An employee’s car breaks down. The manager asks another employee who is already at work to go fetch her. He responds, ‘Do I have to? It is not my problem…’ The manager tells him, ‘I understand, but she needs to get here.’ The employee then stands up, mumbles something and storms off.

The content does not constitute legal advice, are not intended to be a substitute for legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Kindly contact us on or 021 556 1075 to speak to one of our consultants.


Wallace Albertyn

Wallace Albertyn is a Senior Associate and Legal Advisor at LabourMan Consultants.

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