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  Oracle Tips by Burleson

Willful Disobedience (Insubordination)

Difficult IT employees who do not follow company, departmental, or manager-level policies and directives  can lead to a power struggle with the manager and jeopardize the attainment of defined goals. Willful disobedience  is defined as a situation where a direct order is given to an employee, is understood by the employee, and the employee refuses to obey the order intentionally by nonperformance or an explicit statement.

Team morale will degrade if the insubordinate employee is allowed to refuse directives. Some common cases of willful disobedience for IT employees include failing to follow-through on change management procedures and to change passwords on system accounts after the exit of another employee from the company. Not only are tasks such as these directives of management, but they are also essential aspects of an effective and secure environment.

The initial step in addressing this issue should be to discuss it with the individual. This discussion may reveal any underlying reasons for the acts of disobedience. The computer professional may have some disagreement with the manager, the company, or another employee. A dispute with the company may relate to compensation or work hours. Finding a root cause may lead to a resolution of the standoff before disciplinary actions are necessary.

Even if there is an underlying reason for the breach of policies or directives, the insubordinate individual may not provide the true reason or any reason at all for their disobedience. In those instances, the manager will not be able to assist the employee in reconciling the behavior unless they use other alternative methods for finding the root cause. The IT manager must listen to all staff members on a regular basis since factors of insubordinate behavior may be found in individuals other than the offending employee. 

Harassment - Case 2

There was a very complicated case of Clarence Putnam v. Unity Health System (2003). Putnam, an African-American, after being terminated for insubordination, filed a lawsuit against the employer for race and retaliation  discrimination, and racial harassment.

Putnam was a LAN analyst with Unity Health System and his supervisor was Bob Heitzman. Heitzman had communicated to Putnam that his job performance was below par and that he was not “humble enough” and “too prideful.” Putnam asked for an explanation in an email and his supervisor responded that his pride inhibits him from admitting that he has made mistakes. Putnam then sent an email to the Human Resources  representative claiming that his supervisor was “riding him.”

Putnam subsequently filed a complaint with Human Resources that Heitzman had been practicing racial discrimination  against him. HR responded that they did not find Heitzman’s statements to be racially-based. On March 3, 2000, Putnam engaged in an intense argument with a co-worker, calling him a “Neanderthal.”  Putnam was issued a Last Chance Agreement by Unity Health System stating that termination of Putnam at this time was appropriate, but that this was his last chance before that occurred. The agreement further declared that there were to be no more incidents of disrespect or insubordination by Putnam towards Heitzman, otherwise Putnam should immediately resign his employment with Unity Health System or be fired.

After Putnam returned from a leave of absence, Heitzman asked him to carry an on-call pager for an extra week to make up for the week he missed while on leave. He refused to comply with this request and was immediately fired for insubordination. Putnam filed another racial discrimination suit against his employer.

The district court granted summary judgment dismissing all claims. Putnam did not provide evidence that he was replaced as a LAN analyst, a requirement to prove unlawful discrimination. The proof would have been based on evidence that another similarly situated Caucasian employee, for example, was treated in a more favored or different manner.

Unity Health System had the burden of proving that they fired Putnam for a legitimate and non-discriminatory reason, which they did. Putnam refused to comply with a direct order by his supervisor in accordance with the Last Chance Agreement that stated he would be fired for any more incidents of insubordination. Insubordination and violation of company policies are legitimate reasons. The employer also provided evidence that they had previously fired a Caucasian employee for insubordination and also issued other Last Chance Agreements to non-minority employees.

The above book excerpt is from:

You're Fired! Firing Computer Professionals

The IT manager Guide for Terminating "With Cause"

ISBN 0-9744486-4-8

Robert Papaj


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