Employees are expected to follow directions and treat their supervisors with respect. That’s true even if there are problems between the supervisor and employee and things are tense.
Employees who lose their tempers or refuse to follow legitimate directions are insubordinate. That means you can terminate them, a decision courts will rarely second-guess.
Recent case: Djole Dragovic worked for a steel manufacturer and complained to his supervisor and his union that he wasn’t receiving promotions he thought he deserved. He persisted in haranguing his supervisor about the matter and complaining to his co-workers on company time when he should have been working.
The supervisor confronted Dragovic for discussing promotions and the union’s obligations to protect him with co-workers during work time. He told Dragovic to save the topic for his break or off hours.
Dragovic then challenged the supervisor to write him up. When the supervisor said he would, Dragovic responded with an obscenity and walked away. Dragovic was fired for insubordination.
He sued, alleging that discrimination was the real reason he had been fired.
The court disagreed. It noted that refusing to follow directions and cursing out one’s supervisor are legitimate firing offenses. It didn’t matter to the court if Dragovic cursed in frustration or anger. (Dragovic v. Enprotech Steel Services, No. 1:10-CV-02150, ND OH, 2011)
Final note: Of course, if you fire one employee for cursing, make sure you do the same if other employees commit similar offenses.
- Less prestigious job leads to constructive discharge
- Use progressive discipline—or prepare to pay unemployment even if conduct was outrageous
- Be prepared to defend retaliation lawsuit if fired worker had ever complained to HR
- Vacation policy: Keep benchmarks, formality in mind
- Retaliation claim doesn't win if it's filed in wrong court