Insubordination is Misconduct
A finding that an employee engaged in willful misconduct prevents the collection of unemployment benefits upon discharge.
Insubordination is often deemed to be willful misconduct. In insubordination, an employee most often disregards the needs of the employer in the workplace. It can take various forms of behavior, such as the refusal to follow a supervisor’s order or instruction or to refuse to perform assigned work duties. It can also include the refusal to work a shift or time that has been assigned, a refusal to transfer. Insubordination can also include openly ridiculing or challenging a supervisor’s authority.
Generally, if the employer is opposing an employee’s claim for benefits based on insubordination, the employer must allege and prove the specific acts that led to the separation, and the reasons given by the employee for doing or not doing the acts. Merely alleging insubordination is not enough.
In order to find willful misconduct, the employer’s request or order must be reasonable. In order to determine reasonableness, the court considers the employee’s work contract and the perspective of the average person. If the refused order was unreasonable, there is no willful misconduct. What is considered reasonable is often decided on a case-by-case basis.
Likewise, if the refusal was based on the unlawfulness or immorality of the order, it is not considered to be willful misconduct to refuse to obey it.
Finally, mistake or omission is a defense to willful misconduct.
Case Law: Refusal to Obey Order
A case in which a woman was fired when she failed to follow specific instructions given by her supervisor, the employee was given one warning and then discharged. The employee claimed she was unable to understand the orders. However, at the hearing, when asked about them, she was able to articulate the orders and how to carry them out. Misconduct was shown and benefits were denied. (99 AT 7134 BR)
However, benefits were allowed in a case where an employee who worked for a domestic crisis center was discharged for refusing to divulge the content of an obscene phone call she had received. Others in the workplace had received the same call and had divulged its contents, but this employee couldn’t bring herself to repeat it. Although the employee had refused a direct order, the employer had gotten the information needed from other employees. This employee’s refusal was not deemed misconduct. (90 AT 5836 R BR)
A case in which an employee was discharged for leaving a meeting early due to time constraints did not amount to misconduct. The employee had a near perfect work record for 30 years and his leaving a meeting early were not a material or substantial breach of his job duties. Benefits were allowed. (16 AT 05951 BR)
Case Law: Dispute With Superior
Benefits were disallowed in a case in which an employee was requested to take an x-ray of a patient. The employee refused, stating she had no film. When she was given the film she asked her supervisor why the supervisor couldn’t do it herself. The employee had a long history of poor work performance and bad attitude toward other workers. (Day v. Oklahoma Osteopathic Hospital et al., CJ-86-06386 – Tulsa Co. D. Ct. 3-18-87)
But benefits were allowed in a case in which an employer had been singled out for harassment by her supervisor. The employee reposted the harassment appropriately, but nothing was done about it. The supervisor then immediately fired the employee. It was held that the supervisor’s firing of the employee was an overreaction and that the employee’s actions did not constitute misconduct. (96 AT 5952 BR)
These cases turn on subtle facts, and often, on a case-by-case basis. You need the help of an experienced Oklahoma Unemployment Expert. Only an experienced Tulsa benefits lawyer can help you understand the intricacies of your case and how best to protect your right to benefits.
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