On a daily basis, employees in the workplace are required to follow the instructions given by their immediate supervisor, management or their employer.
Beyond a shadow of a doubt, every employee is expected to follow the instructions given by those who are entrusted with the responsibility and authority to do so. Many employees do find themselves between a rock and a hard place, as they attempt to do what they are told.
On the one hand, some employees do as directed/instructed without question, while others act to the contrary. Based on the fact that employees are expected to follow basic rules, is it wrong for an employee to question a directive or instruction given?
This subject can be debated against the backdrop that there is the contention that the failure of an employee to follow an instruction is the most common form of misconduct. Are we to accept that an employee should slavishly do as he/she is told, even if there are good grounds for querying or questioning the same, or moreover raising an objection?
There is a school of thought that where an employee fails to follow an instruction, that individual can justly be accused of being indiscipline, not being a team player, and further, as unprofessional. Whereas this may be true, is it unreasonable to extend some latitude to an employee to raise a query or voice an opinion if the individual has a concern over the validity or accuracy of the directive or instruction given?
Where an employee opts to query, question or raise an objection, management’s general concern should be with the approach, manner of delivery and attitude displayed to the superior when addressing the matter. Employees must be aware that should they fail to observe fundamental courtesies and proceed to act unprofessionally, that this would certainly bring into play the issues of misconduct and disrespect.
Where an employee fails to carry out an instruction or directive, he/she runs the risk of being charged with flouting authority. To put this in layman’s language, this occurs when the employee refuses to respect or obey.
Where any such action is attributed to an employee, that individual will more than likely be cited for irresponsible behaviour. This provides grounds on which a charge of insubordination can be brought. Looking on the positive side, it is not all downhill for the employee who fails to act as directed. It is expected that the employee will follow the instructions of his superior officer/supervisor, unless the employee perceives that instruction to be illegal or that his/her personal safety is under threat as a result of carrying out the directive.
Employers should not show blatant disregard to the actions of an employee who may want to question, query or raise an objection to any instruction given, considering that the individual may do so based on the observance of his/her principles, ethical and moral values, and business ethics. It may be easy for management to override all other points of reasoning; holding firmly to the guiding principle that employees are expected to follow company policies and basic rules.
To put: Can it be right for an employer or agent of the employer to give an instruction to an employee, knowing that it is against the law; but yet seek to discipline that employee, should he/ she fail to obey? Unquestionably, this is wrong. It is equally wrong for an employee to defy his superior.
The best way for an employee to safeguard him/herself, is to verbally communicate their objection for not carrying out an instruction, and immediately thereafter set it out in writing. The point must be re-emphasised that employees must have sound grounds for their stated objection, such as an illegal action, act of dishonesty including fraudulent behaviour, breach of company policies, rules and regulations, and an action to be discharged that is not covered under the individual job description or in the collective bargaining agreement.
* Dennis De Peiza is a Labour Management Consultant with Regional Management Services Inc.
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