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Discipline and Workplace Rights*
(updated 11/13/09)

Insubordination – Refusing a Direct Order

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What is insubordination?

When you refuse to carry out a direct order, it is called insubordination. Most of the time, the union cannot protect a worker who refuses a direct order - even if the order is against your rights under the contract or law. Workers have to follow the order and then file a grievance. This is called “obey now, grieve later.”

What must management show?

To discipline an employee for insubordination, management has to show that:

  • The supervisor/manager told the worker that it was a director order; AND,
  • The supervisor/manager told the worker what would happen if he/she disobeyed the order.

When can you refuse a direct order?

There are two reasons that you can refuse a direct order:

  • You reasonably believed that you were told to do something illegal; OR,
  • You reasonably believed that you would be in immediate danger.

“Obey Now – Grieve Later”

“Obey now, grieve later” can be very frustrating and unfair. It can take a long time to settle a grievance, even if you win. All the time you are fighting to win the grievance, you are supposed to go along with management’s unfair order. Talk to the union to see if there is a way to speed up the grievance. Also, talk with your co-workers and the union steward to figure out ways to pressure management to wait for the grievance to be settled before making anyone follow the rule.


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Created 13 November 2009 • Modified 23 April 2016