How to deal with disobedient staff

Upon being sworn in as the 45th President of the United States of America, President Trump, has made a few changes to the Obama Administration to say the least.  One change is the dismissal of Sally Yates, Attorney General, over her refusal to support Present Trump’s executive order of banning entry for people from seven Muslim-majority countries. The White House has reportedly said that Ms Yates had “betrayed” the department by refusing to enforce an order “designed to protect the citizens of the United States”. 

This executive order has opened a series of discussions which we will avoid debating here. However, an important question arises from this controversial decision taken by the White House which is relevant to employment law: what steps can employers take in handling defiant employees who choose either to criticise or refuse to obey instructions?

A refusal by an employee to follow an employer’s reasonable instructions may be deemed as gross misconduct. In order to determine whether the instructions are in fact reasonable a tribunal will consider the following:

  1. whether the employer has a contractual right to require the employee to perform the work;
  2. whether there is a custom and practice of employees of that kind to carry out the work requested; and
  3. the reasonableness of the employee’s refusal in the circumstances.

An undermining employee can affect the morale of an entire workforce, which in turn, can shake a company’s performance. If the employer can show it reasonably believed that an employee has breached a legitimate and reasonable instruction, the employee’s action may constitute misconduct and in certain circumstances gross misconduct.

In the event an employer is faced with a refusal by an employee to obey an instruction, it should consider whether or not that employee is acting reasonably in refusing to act upon those instructions prior to taking action.

Dominic Bonham