Published 15 July 2022, The Daily Tribune

Insubordination or willful disobedience of lawful orders is one of the just causes for termination of employment under Article 297 of the Labor Code. Department Order 147-15 defines insubordination as the refusal to obey some order, which a superior officer is entitled to give and to have obeyed. It is a willful or intentional disregard of the lawful and reasonable instructions of the employer.

To validly invoke insubordination as a ground to dismiss an employee, the following requisites must be present: (1) the employee’s assailed conduct must have been willful or intentional, the willfulness being characterized by a wrongful and perverse attitude; and (2) the order violated must be based on a reasonable and lawful company rule, regulation, or policy and made known to the employee and must pertain to the duties for which he has been engaged to discharge. (Asian Terminals Inc. v Marbella, et. al, G.R. 149074, 10 August 2006)

With respect to the second requisite, the orders, regulations, or instructions of the employer must be: (a) reasonable and lawful; (b) sufficiently known to the employee; and (c) in connection with the duties which the employee has been engaged to discharge. (Family Planning Organization of the Philippines Inc. v NLRC, G.R. 75907, 23 March 1992)

Thus, it goes without saying that if the employer gives an unreasonable order or one that is not connected with the employee’s duties, the latter’s refusal to obey the same cannot be a valid ground for dismissal.

Here are some examples of acts that constitute insubordination:

In one case, the Supreme Court found just cause to dismiss the employee for her willful disobedience of the superior’s directives requiring her to explain her absence and refusal to subject herself to medical examination. While the employee therein was held not to be guilty of abandonment, she was nonetheless held liable for willful disobedience to the lawful orders of the school. (Aquinas School v Magnaye, G.R. 110062, 5 September 1997)

In another case, the employer, a company engaged in the printing press business, ordered the employee to render overtime service to meet a production deadline on a printing job order but the employee refused to do so for no apparent reason. The Supreme Court ruled that the fact that the employee refused to provide overtime work despite his knowledge that there is a production deadline that needs to be met, and that without him, the offset machine operator, no further printing can be had, showed his wrongful and perverse mental attitude; thus, there is willfulness.

Consequently, it was held that the employee unjustifiably refused to render overtime work despite a valid order to do so. (R.B. Michael Press v Galit, G.R. 153510, 13 February 2008)

In another instance, an employer, a company engaged in the business of rendering door-to-door delivery services, ordered the concerned driver employees to undergo drug testing to guarantee their safety and effective performance of their assigned tasks. Similarly, the employees refused to follow the directive without giving any valid justification. The Supreme Court held that this showed the employees’ wrongful attitude to defy the reasonable orders which undoubtedly pertain to their duties as drivers of the company. Such act is tantamount to willful disobedience of a lawful order, a valid ground for dismissal under the Labor Code. (Kakampi and its Members v Kingsport Express and Logistic, G.R. 194814, 25 April 2012)

However, not every case of willful disobedience by an employee of a lawful order of the employer can be reasonably penalized with dismissal. There must be reasonable proportionality between the willful disobedience by the employee and the penalty imposed therefore (Gold City Integrated Port Services Inc. v NLRC, G.R. 86000, 21 September 1990). Thus, insubordination or acts of disobedience when minor and not serious do not constitute a just cause for dismissal.

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