While you can be fired in California for insubordination, exactly what transpired during the alleged incident is the crux of the matter under the law. Your employer cannot simply declare you “insubordinate” and that’s that.  Often, insubordination results from a series of situations or acts, with official warnings or reprimands given to the employee.  It can result from one specific event, especially when tempers flare.  Added to the mix is the fact that California is an employment “at will” state, meaning that, theoretically, an employer can fire an employee at any time, without cause.

What is Insubordination?

If you are not clear exactly what constitutes insubordination in the workplace, the California Employment Development Department defines it as:

  • Disobeying an employer’s order or instruction
  • Disputing or ridiculing authority
  • Exceeding authority
  • Using vulgar or profane language towards the supervisor.

Insubordination and Unemployment Benefits

In California, the employer must contest a former employee’s claim to receive unemployment benefits. Otherwise, the unemployment board assumes there is no case of misconduct for the individual’s termination. Being fired for insubordination is a valid reason for a terminated employee to lose eligibility for unemployment benefits.

 Reasonable and Lawful

The California Labor Code, Section 2856, concerning insubordination, is straightforward: “An employee shall substantially comply with all the directions of his employer concerning the service on which he is engaged, except where such obedience is impossible or unlawful, or would impose new and unreasonable burdens upon the employee.”

Much depends upon the nature of the employer’s claim of insubordination.  If an employee disobeys a reasonable and lawful order from the employer, and there was no justifiable reason for the employee to refuse, the claim of insubordination will usually hold up. If you refused to do your job, your employer has the right to terminate you for insubordination, under most circumstances. If your employer requested that you perform an illegal activity or engage in something he knew you could not reasonably do, that is another story. An example of the latter is a supervisor firing you because you could not perform a physical activity, not required of your job, because of health issues.  Your employer also can’t ask you to undertake a task that would jeopardize your health or that of others.

The California Employment Development Department, which oversees unemployment benefits, determines each situation on a case-by-case basis. The investigation may include interviewing witnesses to the alleged insubordination, contacting the local police department or other agencies to decide whether an order was legal, and detailing the exact circumstances of the incident.

If you think you were unfairly fired for insubordination, contact a lawyer experienced in employment issues. The attorney can tell you whether or not your case has merit, and advise you how to proceed accordingly.