BC Employment Law: Insubordination – Is it grounds for termination?

You have just been asked by your boss to carry out a new procedure he thinks will be much better than the current procedure. However, your boss does not have the hands-on experience you do and you know from past experience that every time he comes up with a new procedure he thinks will be much better, it turns out more often than not, his new procedure is not practical.

If you decide not to carry out your employer's latest new idea, and you are fired, can you successfully sue for wrongful dismissal if you can demonstrate to the Court that your employer's new idea was not going to work?

As an employment lawyer, I am frequently asked for advice from clients in situations similar to the above. These clients want to know if they will be able to successfully sue their employer for wrongful dismissal/wrongful termination if they are fired after refusing to carry out their employer's directions.

An Employee that has been Terminated for InsubordinationSurprisingly, the law is not on the side of the employee in cases where an employer's directive is intentionally disregarded - even if the employee had good reason to believe the directive was a poor management decision.

Our B.C. Court of Appeal recently heard an appeal of a Trial Judge's decision. The Trial Judge had dismissed a wrongful dismissal/termination lawsuit brought on by a senior manager, against his employer, after he was fired.

The B.C. Court of Appeal, in dismissing the senior manager's appeal, thoroughly reviewed the law and referred to many longstanding cases. In summary, the Court concluded that, unless the employer's direction is illegal, dishonest or would risk the employee's safety, the employee must follow the direction. To do otherwise gives the employer grounds to terminate the employee with cause. The result is that a lawsuit by the terminated employee will fail.

You might think you are making the right decision in not carrying out the employer's instruction but unless you are being asked to do something illegal, dishonest or something that will put your safety at risk, you run the risk of losing your job and not being able to sue. If you are thinking of refusing to follow your employer's instruction, make sure to speak with an employment or labor lawyer first.