Employees have a duty to comply with all lawful and reasonable instructions of their employer. Failure to do so will put them in breach of their employment obligations and liable to disciplinary action and/or dismissal. To be “lawful” your instruction must not be illegal nor outside the requirements of the employee’s employment agreement. For example, it is unlikely to be lawful to ask a receptionist to perform the duties of a mechanic but, if there is a good business reason, you might reasonably require a senior manager to pick up a client from the airport or load a truck to meet a key delivery deadline. It is never lawful to ask an employee to engage in criminal activity. To be “reasonable” the employer’s instruction must not expose the employee to any unreasonable health or safety hazard. It is lawful for an employee to refuse an instruction if he/she has reasonable grounds to believe that carrying out the instruction would expose him/her to a direct and immediate health or safety hazard.
Your request will generally be ‘lawful and reasonable’ if it passes these tests: Doesn’t require a breach of law. Not hazardous from a health or safety viewpoint. In their job description or reasonably implied in the JD. They have done it in the past. Typically done by people in this role. Simple extension of existing duties. Different way of doing the same job (i.e. new technology) Unusual but there are exceptional reasons (execs moving stock in a fast flooding warehouse).
As their manager you can also set or reset their priorities. If they propose to do it ‘later’– you are entitled to re-order their priorities and get it done now. BUT remember to use that authority wisely – a negotiated solution is generally better in the long run.
All employees have a right to refuse to undertake work if they genuinely believe their health or safety is at risk but they are obliged to explain why they believe this is the case.
It’s your call in the end. Remember that to be a lawful and reasonable instruction it must be: Within the contract of employment. Not unreasonable in the circumstances. Not illegal. Not hazardous from a health or safety viewpoint. Take a break and discuss with your Manager
Involve your Manager and a H&S expert if you are in any doubt.
If you can’t accept their reasons and want to progress the issue set up a meeting with the employee. Have a witness present. Reiterate the lawful and reasonable nature of the request. Remind employee about his/her responsibility to comply with instructions. Caution them about likelihood of disciplinary action if refusal persists. Give them a chance to consult a representative (where applicable). Wherever possible give employee time to reconsider.
Have a witness present. Reiterate the reasons you expect them to comply and the consequences (disciplinary process including the potential for dismissal) if they don’t. Make the request (potentially put the request in writing/email including a deadline) – ask if they will comply. Document what they say/do in response.
In most cases refusal of a lawful and reasonable instruction will be serious misconduct under our Disciplinary Process and depending on mitigating circumstances can justify summary (without notice) dismissal.