Laws on insubordination will vary from company to company and according to the nature of the insubordination. The legal definition of insubordination is wilful failure to obey a supervisor's lawful orders. Actions against insubordination can vary from verbal warnings all the way up to termination. When penalising or terminating an employee for insubordination, certain protocols must be met.
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An act can be insubordinate only if the demand made was legal. In the California case of Garvin v. Chambers, insubordination was defined as willingly disobeying a lawful order. Employers are not allowed to ask employees to commit illegal acts. If the employee refuses and is penalised, then the employer risks litigation for wrongful termination.
James Garvin, an Oakland police officer, was fired on the grounds that he refused to obey a superior officer's order. Garvin attempted an appeal of the decision, but the hearing was denied.
Companies are not required to make formal policies regarding staff conduct. However, if an employee commits an act that is considered insubordinate, penalising the employee or terminating employment could be difficult from a legal standpoint. According to streetdirectory.com, small businesses that fail to create company rules, policies and handbooks outlining them risk losing the respect of employees. The lack of rules also makes changing insubordinate behaviour problematic.
Single Acts of Insubordination
Insubordination can lead to termination, but firing an employee for a single insubordinate act can be difficult. The employee could have a wrongful-termination case if there are no policies or procedures set. To protect themselves from litigation, employers need to have several meetings with the employee, set targets and offer the employee the opportunity to improve. If thee targets are not met, then termination is a legally viable option.
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