Was That Insubordination?

Arbitrators usually look at insubordination as a serious offense and have established a principle of "obey now, grieve later".

In the course of represent­ing members, stewards often must use forceful language. Judges have ruled that this is appropriate and cannot be used as insub­ordination against the steward.

Employers often view insubordination as one of the "capital" offenses - up there with fighting or stealing. And, as steward you should advise members that the general rule is to obey the order and grieve later. However there are some questions to consider if you find yourself building a case for a member who has been disciplined for an insubordination allegation.

  1. Was the employee given a direct order? Refusing suggestions, advice and the like may not be insubordination.
  2. Was the member aware that the supervisor was giving a direct order?
  3. Was the language clear? An order to stop smoking may mean in the current location or totally stop the behavior - it isn't clear.
  4. Was the order audible? Many workplaces are noisy.
  5. Was the member giving any warning about refusal? Sometimes Arbitrators want to know if the supervisor warned the person that the behavior was insub­ordinate.
  6. Was there an on-going personality problem between the member and the supervisor? Provocation does not void insubordination but it might mitigate the severity of the discipline.
  7. Did the member willfully disobey or disregard the order?
  8. Was the order reasonable?
  9. Did the member feel as though complying would endanger lives?
  10. Was the member set-up?
  11. Did the charge arise out of exercising rights under the collective bargaining agreement or law?