Author: Daniel A. Lublin
Have you ever wondered what would happen if you just said “NO” to your boss?
Although the thought has certainly crossed the mind of many employees, most won’t have the satisfaction to see it transpire. But not Dianne Roden and Karen Mottram. For these two employees, refusing a direct order from the boss became more than just a fantasy, it became their reality.
While few employees have the pleasure to turn down a direct order from the boss, Roden and Mottram took it upon themselves to decide what they would and would not do at work. Their employer, the Toronto Humane Society, gave the duo a clear directive to accept stray animals and put them up for adoption after a week. But Roden and Mottram refused to do so, citing concerns with the Humane Society’s legal authority to accept strays.
Even though their justification for refusing to follow directions may have been genuine and, arguably, reasonable, the fact remained that their employer had directed them to carry out the task and they refused to comply. And when they persisted in the refusals — even in the face of legal opinions stating that the directive was legal — Roden and Mottram sealed their fate: they were fired.
Although there can be instances in which refusing to perform as instructed would not land an employee in hot water, Roden and Mottram’s decision to just say “NO” cost them their jobs. The court found that they refused to perform an essential condition of their employment and they didn’t have a legitimate justification for doing so. As a result, the Humane Society was permitted to treat Roden and Mottram as if they had abandoned their positions.
So when it comes to your own fantasies of turning down the boss’s orders, I caution you to think carefully before you follow in Roden’s and Mottran’s footsteps. Just as the law prohibits an employer from making fundamental changes to the employment relationship, the reverse is equally true; an employee cannot insist on a significant change, such as refusing to carry out a job duty, without a legitimate reason for doing so. If an employee does choose to refuse, the employer can be justified for dismissing that employee.
While there can be situations where legitimate excuses exist for refusing a clear order, there are no guarantees that — unlike Roden and Mottram — you will not be shown the door. As such, each situation must be assessed, having regard to the unique facts that are present. But generally, though, where the order you were given was clearly unreasonable or if the excuse you provide is justifiable, you stand a much better chance of avoiding any discipline and, ultimately, keeping your job.