mark Atchison/torstar news service file photo
About to leave on a much needed vacation, Evo Watson thought she had made plans for just about everything. But when her boss demanded she cancel her trip at the last minute, she realized the only contingency she had overlooked was her own dismissal.
As the operations manager for Mississauga-based food manufacturer, Summar Foods, Watson had complied with the usual vacation protocol: she obtained approval for a two week vacation to Barbados months earlier and had arranged for proper coverage of her duties while she would be away. Watson’s husband had also booked the time off from his job and the couple’s airline tickets and social arrangements were all in place.
However, much to Watson’s chagrin, and just prior to her departure, her boss Mohamed Elguindy called her from Florida and told her to change her plans. Unknown to Watson, Elguindy was cleaning up hurricane damage to his residence and Summar Foods’ Florida manufacturing plant. But Elguindy didn’t bother to tell this to Watson. Instead, thinking he was entitled to issue the directive, and that Watson would have to obey, he got upset when she refused to change her plans.
The two spoke later that day and Elguindy told Watson to hand in her keys and take all of her belongings from the office. When Watson left for Barbados, she wasn’t expecting that her job would be waiting for her when she returned. She was correct. When Watson arrived home, a notice of registered mail from Summar Foods awaited her with her final pay and her Record of Employment marked “quit”.
Watson sued and was successful at trial. In declining to change her trip, Watson had disobeyed a direct order. However, it was an order that was unreasonable and it was the first time Watson had done so, the court ruled.
Despite the judge’s ruling here, employees shouldn’t presume that they will be vindicated if disobeying a stressful or difficult directive from the boss. Wilful disobedience is usually condemned. However, in Watson’s case, the order she was given wasn’t deemed reasonable.
Both employers and employees should consider the following rules:
- Where an employee intentionally disregards a clear, lawful and unequivocal order from a superior, her immediate dismissal may be justified.
- Employers are entitled to instruct employees to perform given tasks. Those instructions are more likely to become unreasonable where they have little or no connection to the fulfillment of a condition of employment. In Watson’s case, the order to change her vacation plans came at the last minute and was due to a problem that was her boss’ ultimate responsibility.
- An employee with a blemished disciplinary past may curry less favour with the employer — or the judge — when it comes to assessing his or her degree of insubordination.