The classical definition of insubordination in the workplace is an employee’s willful disregard for a manager’s direct order. However, when an employee steps outside of his or her authority to reveal a managers actions or decisions to a non-qualified outside party, is that insubordination as well? Sometimes that is called whistleblowing when the manager’s action is clearly unethical or illegal. But what if that manager’s action is perfectly upright and the employee’s objective is to disrupt the plan?

I serve on the Board of a non-profit organization. Recently, an uproar was created when a member of the President’s office staff discussed a possible operation, which had yet to be approved, with some outsiders who had vested interest in the area. The staffer was never told directly not to discuss the plan, but its confidential nature was well known. Without specific instructions, shouldn’t the boss assume his staff will treat such details in confidence?

As a manager, how would you deal with this?

In many instances, the guilty employee has exhibited indifferences to company rules and norms. The problem employee has been given “kid-glove” treatment because the managers can’t or won’t face up to the inappropriate behavior. If this were the case, the real blame lays with the manager. This type of behavior needs to be nipped in the bud before such a serious transgression occurs. The rules for behavior need to be clear and enforceable. Such an employee should never have been allowed to serve in such a sensitive position in the first place. For this case, the proper action is to address the problem once and done. Termination is the most likely best avenue.

But sometimes a very loyal employee will get into a conversation where this information is inadvertently discussed or brought up with the hope that another course of action can be developed because the staffer sees a serious problem with the action. Of course, that employee should have rightly discussed it with his or her superior first. If you - as the boss - are not easily approached, don’t be too surprised when this happens. Under these circumstances, you may wish to pursue a different course of action, such as a severe reprimand, after discussions with the employee.