Obeying orders is one of the cornerstone of the employer-employee relationship. The relationship has always been one of master and servant relationship where the servant is expected to act upon instructions rendered to him and failure to do so is classified as a serious act of misconduct called wilful disobedience to a lawful order.
See Section 4b of Labour (National Employment Code of Conduct) Regulations, 2006, S.I 15 of 2006.
It must be qualified that not all orders given to subordinates by superiors at the work place are lawful and at the same time even where the instruction is found to be lawful ,not every failure to obey orders is wilful.
The employer must prove that the order which was given was lawful and was given by a person who is in authority. In defence the employee needs to prove that the order given was not within the confines of the law, offended statutes etc or was not rendered by a person in authority. This deals with the ‘lawfulness’ bit.
The other component relates to ‘willfulness’.
What constitutes willful disobedience to a lawful order was well captured in the case of Samkange v Wycombe Foundation SC 10/2001. The court determined that the failure to obey must be;
- Deliberate and serious
- Not a result of a mistake
- Not trivial and
- Not a result of an unconsidered reaction in a moment of excitement.
Wilful disobience of a lawful order is a very serious offence which if proved entitles the employer to dismiss an employee because its commission undermines authority at the work place and runs counter to one of the common law duties of the employee which is the duty to be subordinate by obeying lawful orders.
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