In day-to-day business, companies have every right to demand that employees follow the chain of command. They can require workers who have complaints about work processes or disagreements with co-workers to take up their issues with supervisors, and not go over bosses’ heads to the executive suites or discuss them with customers.
If employees defy those rules, that can be insubordination—and it can justify termination.
Note: That’s true for almost everything except legitimate legal concerns such as discrimination and sexual or racial harassment. In those cases, you need a clear system that bypasses lower-level managers and supervisors.
Recent case: Jan Gallo worked for a civilian contractor that provided investigative services for the U.S. Navy. The contractor promoted Gallo several times, but the Navy was dissatisfied with her work and complained.
Gallo wanted to confront her Navy client directly in order to clear the air, but her supervisor said no. She persisted, complaining to HR and even the company CEO. Finally, after being warned one last time to lethandle the problem, she fired off an e-mail to the customer. To make matters worse, Gallo also refused to work on a training project her supervisor had assigned. Her employer fired her for insubordination and for refusing to tackle an assigned project.
Gallo sued, alleging various forms of discrimination. The court tossed out her case, concluding that insubordination was a legitimate reason to fire her, and that she hadn’t proved discrimination. (Gallo v. U.S. Investigations Services, No. 06-2134, 4th Cir., 2007)
Final note: It’s management’s job to manage, which includes setting the rules for resolving conflicts. Allowing garden-variety complaints to blossom into full-fledged conflicts is poor management. Insist that employees follow orders unless they clearly involve wrongdoings or illegal discrimination.