Employment Law.  In the context of employment law, the term “insubordination” means an employee’s failure/refusal to comply with the lawful instructions of his or her employer.  Insubordination is a valid ground for an employer to impose disciplinary action against the insubordinate employee.

Reference Desk

California Government Code § 19572

Each of the following constitutes cause for discipline of an employee, or of a person whose name appears on any employment list . . . (e) Insubordination . . .

Coomes v. State Personnel Board215 Cal. App. 2d 770 (1963)

Preliminarily, we turn to Government Code section 19572, subdivisions (e) and (o). The former specifies “insubordination” as a ground for discipline, the latter “willful disobedience.” The two terms overlap. So far as they are distinguishable, dictionary definitions indicate that disobedience connotes a specific violation of command or prohibition, while insubordination implies a general course of mutinous, disrespectful or contumacious conduct. In the statute, the term “disobedience” is modified by the adjective “willful,” but the ground of insubordination is without a modifying adjective. Still, the latter term carries a volitional coloration which excludes the notion of accidental or even negligent conduct. [5] A proper construction of section 19572 impels the view that insubordination, equally with willful misconduct, requires proof of intent or willfulness. The latter elements imply that the person knows what he is doing and intends to do what he is doing. (See In re Trombley, 31 Cal.2d 801, 807 [193 P.2d 734]; People v. McCree, 128 Cal.App.2d 196, 202 [275 P.2d 95].)

[6] Thus, in order to justify disciplinary action under either subdivision of section 19572, State Personnel Board findings must rest upon evidence of intentional or knowing conduct. Evidence which fails to establish willfulness, knowledge or intent lacks an indispensable element for proof of guilt and is not substantial. [4b] Precisely at this point the evidence in this case fails completely to establish knowing insubordination or willful misconduct on the part of appellant Coomes.

Wagner v. Tulalip Hous. Auth., 2001 Tulalip App. LEXIS 2 (2001)

Insubordination is a major offense under HRO 84 and warrants employment termination. The Ordinance, however, does not define insubordination and the parties have struggled for a meaning and how it applies in this case.

The Employment Court’s final decision states that “[w]hile Mr. Wagner’s comment was not foul, it was rude and inappropriate and in light of the circumstances articulated above constitutes insubordination within the meaning of HRO 84 IX.D.2.”  Here the court includes the evidence it relied upon to reach its conclusion, but does not provide a meaning of insubordination to connect this evidence to.

Wagner argues that the Black’s Law Dictionary definition of insubordination should be used in this case. This definition of insubordination means in part, “[a] willful disregard of an employer’s instructionà.”  Wagner asserts that THA does not allege that it ordered him to do or not do something and that  [*14] he disobeyed that order. Wagner argues, therefore, that his conduct does not constitute insubordination under this meaning.

THA, on the other hand, argues that “[t]here is another more natural, sense of that term, in which being insubordinate could mean also in addition to a direct refusal to obey an order, it could be a refusal to be subordinate ….” THA goes on to say, “[i]t’s our position that Mr. Wagner’s behavior à insulting a superior, in front of the entire organization … was insubordinate.”

The Employment Court’s conclusion that Wagner’s comment constitutes insubordination is not supported by an analysis of any applicable law.

The court relies on HRO 84 § IX D(2) alone, which limits its ability to discuss how this provision supports its conclusion. The court states that Wagner’s comment constitutes this major offense “within the meaning” of the Ordinance, yet the Ordinance does not provide a meaning. How then can the court make this statement or engage in a discussion without the inclusion of other authority  [*15] for clarification? As it stands, Wagner’s property interest is terminated because he violated a major offense that neither the Ordinance, THA, nor the Employment Court has a meaning for. This is alarming.

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