Insubordination is one of the major contributing factors to employee discipline and dismissal and is one of the easiest charges to prove. In order to assist your members in avoiding the hazard of becoming insubordinate, a thorough understanding of the concept is necessary.
Insubordination is defined as “failure to obey authority”. If an employee whom you represent comes to you and questions a directive issued by the principal or immediate supervisor, you might advise him or her to first discuss any objections to the directive with the principal or supervisor. However, if the administrator insists that the order be obeyed, advise the employee to comply, unless the directive would threaten his or her health or safety or the health or safety of students and others. Then take the matter further through the grievance procedure or pursue other courses of action.
It is important to recognize that the principal or immediate supervisor does have some powers vested in him or her by virtue of the position he or she holds. Some management rights are inherent simply because he or she is “boss”. Any principal or immediate supervisor has the right to exert leadership, to direct the institutional operations of the site, and to enforce the rules and policies of the district. The principal or immediate supervisor also has the right to issue reasonable orders and directives, so long as they:
- conform to the negotiated agreement;
- are clear and unambiguous;
- are applied uniformly
- are justly administered; and
- are not injurious to your health or safety or that of anyone else.
Unfortunately, some administrators do not exercise this right with competence, do not clearly state directives, do not apply directives equitably, and act impulsively and without regard for the provisions of the negotiated agreement. These shortcomings of the administrator do not, however, give the employee the right to disregard or disobey the management directive or order.
The generally accepted rule in labor relations is to “work now and grieve later”. This is translated to mean that if an employee finds a management directive unreasonable, unfair, inequitable, or alleges that it is in violation of the negotiated agreement, the best course of action is to obey the order, in spite of its lack of integrity, and raise objections to the order through the grievance procedure (if that applies) or to seek assistance from the union representative for a rescinding of the directive.
This may seem a bitter pill to swallow, but it avoids the jeopardy of being labeled insubordinate, which in all labor-management circles is cause for discipline.
Sometimes the “work now and grieve later” rule can cause compliance with the order to the employee’s detriment and management’s advantage. Consider the case where a principal orders an employee on a one-time occasion to ride the bus home with a group of children to maintain discipline on the bus. The negotiated agreement may be very clear in forbidding that kind of order. The supervisor may be very willing to say later, “I promise I’ll never give that kind of order again. I was wrong to do so.” However, the employee still had to ride the bus. What can be done to rectify the situation?
In this case the employee would have been considered to have suffered an “injury”, that is, his or her rights would have been violated and something needs to be done to make the employee “whole” once more. Therefore, a creative resolution is needed, such as one that allows the employee to receive either an equivalent amount of compensatory time or to receive pay at one and one-half times the employee’s normal rate pro-rated for the amount of time taken on the bus trip. Most arbitrators would not make the supervisor suffer punishment in this case, but would be receptive to other forms of creative relief.
The one exception to this rule is, of course, where the supervisor orders the employee to do something which is injurious to health or physical safety (i.e. search lockers for bombs). In such cases the employee can refuse to carry out the directive without fear of discipline.