A business owner contacted me the other day to discuss a disciplinary matter regarding one of his non-exempt field employees who refused to complete a task, and then walked off the job. The owner wanted to terminate the employee immediately, which was well within his right given the company’s at-will policy.

Despite my conceptual support for the disciplinary decision, fact finding revealed there was no performance management documentation of any kind in the employee’s personnel file. Based on the lack of feedback, that could have become problematic in a possible wrongful termination claim, I suggested a written warning be given to the employee. I proposed the following documentation be included as part of the feedback process. 

“On Wednesday, June 19, 2014, “employee name” refused to clean up some debris at a job site as directed by his Foreman and immediately walked off the job.  Failure to perform that reasonable job-related assignment satisfies the definition of insubordination (i.e., “refusal to obey some order which a superior officer is entitled to give and is entitled to have obeyed”).  Willingly disobeying a lawful order unambiguously violates the company’s job performance expectations, with direct impact on company results (e.g., inefficient labor utilization, poor job quality, possible job loss which reduces company revenue, and damaged team morale).  Based upon that violation, “employee name” must demonstrate immediate, significant, and sustained performance improvement.  Failure to meet any of these stated criteria in the future may result in additional corrective action up to and including immediate termination.”

Had this documentation already been present in the employee’s personnel file, underscored by confirmatory evidence from an investigation of the incident, it would have been easy to support a decision to terminate the employee.

Steve Cesare Ph.D.

has more than 25 years of Human Resources experience. Prior to joining The Harvest Group, Steve worked with Bemus Landscape, Jack in the Box, the County of San Diego, Citicorp, and NASA. Steve earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Old Dominion University, and has authored 68 human resources journal articles. As a member of The Harvest Group, Steve’s areas of expertise include: staffing, legal compliance, wage and hour issues, training, and employee safety.  Read Steve's full bio.