1. Concept

Willful disobedience refers to insubordination.

Insubordination refers to “the refusal to obey some order, which a superior is entitled to give and have obeyed. It is a willful or intentional disregard of the lawful and reasonable instructions of the employer.” (Section 4 [l], Rule I-A, DOLE D.O. No. 2015-147)

If an employee disobeys a company policy or directive without knowing about it, then it is not willful in character. It is thus on the responsibility of the employer to make known to the employees the rules and regulations of the workplace.

“While the law imposes many obligations upon the employer, nonetheless, it also protects the employers right to expect from its employees not only good performance, adequate work, and diligence, but also good conduct and loyalty. In fact, the Labor Code does not excuse employees from complying with valid company policies and reasonable regulations for their governance and guidance.” (Rural Bank of Cantilan, Inc. v. Julve, G.R. No. 169750, 27 February 2007)

Should an employee challenge his/her dismissal due to willful disobedience, it is the responsibility of the employer to establish the existence of such lawful order. Accordingly, documentation is crucial for the proper use and application of willful disobedience.

As early at this point, it should be emphasized that company policies are generally valid. The employees cannot simply declare that workplace rules and regulations are invalid if they do not agree to them.

“To sanction the disregard or disobedience by employees of a reasonable rule or order laid down by management would be disastrous to the discipline and order within the enterprise. It is in the interest of both the employer and the employee to preserve and maintain order and discipline in the work environment. Deliberate disregard of company rules or defiance of management prerogative cannot be countenanced. This is not to say that the employees have no remedy against rules or orders they regard as unjust or illegal. They can object thereto, ask to negotiate thereon, bring proceedings for redress against the employer. But until and unless the rules or orders are declared to be illegal or improper by competent authority, the employees ignore or disobey them at their peril.” (Benguet Electric Cooperative v. Fianza, G.R. No. 158606, 09 March 2004)

Consequently, if employees fail/refuse to comply with the company policies, rules, and regulations, they risk being terminated from employment for just cause. By virtue of its management prerogatives, the employer is allowed by law to set the rules and regulations in the workplace. In turn, employees are expected to comply; they cannot simply refuse to obey if the rules are not to their liking.

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CASE STUDY

GTE Directories Corporation v. GTE-DC Employees Union

G.R. No. 76219, 27 May 1991

[The employees – Sales Representatives – were dismissed after they intentionally refused to submit sales reports despite being directed to do so.]

To repeat, it would be dangerous doctrine indeed to allow employees to refuse to comply with rules and regulations, policies and procedures laid down by their employer by the simple expedient of formally challenging their reasonableness or the motives which inspired them, or filing a strike notice with the Department of Labor and Employment, or, what amounts to the same thing, to give the employees the power to suspend compliance with company rules or policies by requesting that they be first subject of collective bargaining, It would be well-nigh impossible under these circumstances for any employer to maintain discipline in its establishment. This is, of course, intolerable.

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The success of a company is the success of both the employer and the employees. Thus, disobedient employees are harming themselves, their co-employees, and the company.

“Success of industries and public services is the foundation upon which just wages may be paid. There cannot be success without efficiency. There cannot be efficiency without discipline. Consequently, when employees and laborers violate the rules of discipline they jeopardize not only the interest of the employer but also their own. In violating the rules of discipline they aim at killing the hen that lays the golden eggs. Laborers who trample down the rules set for an efficient service are, in effect, parties to a conspiracy, not only against capital but also against labor. The high interest of society and of the individuals demand that we should require everybody to do his duty. That demand is addressed not only to employer but also to employees.” (Justice Gregorio Perfecto, dissenting in Batangas Transportation Co. v. Bagong Pagkakaisa of the Employees and Laborers of the Batangas Trans. Co., G.R. No. L-1706, 10 March 1949

Indeed, disobedient employees have no place in the workplace as their harmful behavior affects both their co-employees and the employers.

2. Standards

DOLE D.O. 147-15 provides for the standards.

To be a valid ground for termination, the following must be present:

1) There must be disobedience or insubordination;

2) The disobedience or insubordination must be willful or intentional characterized by a wrongful and perverse attitude;

3) The order violated must be reasonable, lawful, and made known to the employee; and,

4) The order must pertain to the duties which he has been engaged to discharge.

The following discusses each requirement.

a. Disobedience or insubordination

1st Requisite: There must be disobedience or insubordination.

Disobedience or insubordination is the failure or refusal to obey the rules, regulations, or instructions of the employer. There are two possible bases for disobedience: (a) company policies, and (b) day-to-day instructions.

First, the company rules, regulations, and policies are those enforced by the employer throughout the workplace to regulate aspects of employment. They are usually contained in the Company Policies or via Company Memos. Ordinarily, these are made known to the employees via a company orientation.

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♠ BEST LEGAL PRACTICE

Document the company orientation via a Sign-up Sheet indicating therein that they have attended the meeting and that the rules and regulations in the Company Policies have been explained to them. Should an employee claim that he was not made aware of the company the policies, the sign-up sheet will serve as the documentation to show that he was indeed made aware of the rules.

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Second, there are day-to-day instructions by the employer to the employee. Thus, they tend to be those which are not reflected in the Company Policies – as these daily instructions relate to operations, tasks, or responsibilities of the employee.

Unlike workplace rules and regulations, these directives are often provided via verbal communications. Expectedly, there is no documentation generated to support these instructions should the need arise to discipline the employee.

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♠ BEST LEGAL PRACTICE

The employer should ensure documentation to establish daily instructions that were not observed or followed if such will be the basis for willful disobedience. This can be done with the use of Incident Reports. Ordinarily, the incident report is required from the manager/supervisor who gave the directive and confirms therein the failure of the employee to follow. On the other hand, it is also possible for the employee to be directed to submit an incident report to explain the status of the directive and provide explanation why it is not yet completed.

For companies that regularly use email, employers may also provide the instruction or directive that was disobeyed by employees via email correspondences.

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For emphasis, employers tend to lose an illegal dismissal case based on willful disobedience simply due to the lack of documentation to prove the existence of a lawful order. Consequently, it is vital that the corresponding documents are generated to support the validity of the dismissal.

b. Willful or intentional

2nd Requisite: The disobedience or insubordination must be willful or intentional characterized by a wrongful and perverse attitude.

Willful disobedience requires that the employees knew of a rule, policy, directive, or instruction. If they do not know or are unaware thereof, then they any disobedience will not be willful. Otherwise stated, employees may have disobeyed a particular rule; however, such disobedience is not willful if they do not know or are unaware of such rule that they have violated.

Moreover, despite knowing the existence of rule or policy, the employee deliberately and intentionally violated them. In such a case, the employee’s insubordination was prompted by bad faith, ill-will, or disrespect for the rules.

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CASE STUDY

Soco v. Mercantile Corporation of Davao

G.R. No. L-53364-65, 16 March 1987

[The employee – a Delivery Van Driver – was dismissed after using the company vehicle for personal use, among others.]

… what should not be overlooked is the prerogative of an employer company to prescribe reasonable rules and regulations necessary or proper for the conduct of its business and to provide certain disciplinary measures in order to implement said rules and to assure that the same would be complied with. A rule prohibiting employees from using company vehicles for private purpose without authority from management is, from our viewpoint, a reasonable one. This regulation cannot be faulted by the employee because this is proper and necessary even if only for an orderly conduct of the employer’s business. From the evidence presented, [the employee] twice used the company vehicle in pursuing his own personal interests, on company time and deviating from his authorized route, all without permission. To cap off his infractions, [the employee] stubbornly declined even to satisfy MERCO’s request for an explanation or to attend a grievance conference to discuss violations. Certainly, to condone [the employee’s] own conduct will erode the discipline that an employer should uniformly apply so that it can expect compliance to the same rules and regulations by its other employees. Otherwise, the rules necessary and proper for the operation of its business, would be gradually rendered ineffectual, ignored, and eventually become meaningless.

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To reiterate, it is the responsibility of the employer to prove that the employees know or are aware of any workplace rule, policy, directive, or instruction. When employees are dismissed for willful disobedience, they tend to claim that they were not informed or made aware of the existence of such company policies and regulations.

Thus, in St. Luke’s Medical Center v. Quebral, the employee denied knowledge of a policy that limited use of the validated parking slots to patients only. The employer pointed out and the Supreme Court agreed that the employee knew of such rules, to wit:

“[The employee] cannot feign ignorance of the policy limiting to patients the privilege of the use of validated parking tickets. First, it is written on the parking ticket itself. Having used said parking tickets many times, it was incumbent upon him to read the terms and conditions stated thereon. And second, even assuming he was not able to read said policy, this Court agrees with [the employer] that this only serves as a testament of his inefficiency in his job as he is not aware of his employer’s policies despite being employed for 7 years. Moreover, as Wellness Center Assistant whose task is to extend all needed assistance to the ECU patients, it is expected that he is aware of all matters relating to patient rights and privileges.” (St. Luke’s Medical Center v. Quebral, G.R. No. 193324, 23 July 2014)

Proving that employees are aware of an order is particularly significant when it comes to day-to-day instructions. As indicated in the Best Legal Practice earlier, documentation should be made via Incident Reports in anticipation of a possible denial by the employees of the instructions given to them.

c. Order is reasonable, lawful, known to employee

3rd Requisite: The order violated must be reasonable, lawful, and made known to the employee.

As discussed in the immediate preceding section, the order should have been communicated to the employees. Otherwise, their disobedience of an unknown rule or order will be considered to be not willful.

While the rule or policy usually comes in a written form, the order or directive may also be verbal. In Gold City Integrated Port Services, Inc. (INPORT) v. Bacalso, the employee – an Admeasurer – was dismissed after engaging in a fistfight with a co-employee despite a prior verbal order to behave properly by an immediate superior.

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CASE STUDY

Gold City Integrated Port Services, Inc. (INPORT) v. Bacalso

G.R. No. 86000, 21 September 1990

By [the employee’s] own admission, he felt insulted by the re-measurement of the cargo he had already measured. He was apparently much offended by the implication he perceived that management was uncertain either about his honesty or his competence or possibly both. He determined to lose his temper, became very angry and picked a fight with one of the co-workers who had been instructed by their common superior to carry out the re-measurement of [the employee’s] pallets of bananas. In the process, [the employee] completely disregarded the courtesy and respect due from a subordinate to his superior. Indeed, he may have been, consciously or otherwise, precisely sending a signal to his superior officer in whose presence he provoked and then engaged in physical violence with his co-worker. Prior to the fistfight, Guangco had warned [the employee] to desist from further provoking his co-worker with insulting language. This warning constituted an order from [the employee’s] immediate superior not to breach the peace and order of the Surveyors'(Admeasurers’) Division; Guangco was obviously attempting to maintain basic employee discipline in the workplace.

It is thus not easy to understand how public respondent NLRC could have reasonably concluded that Guangco’s order and warning were “not connected” with [the employee’s] work. We believe and so hold that [the employee’s] act constituted willful disobedience to a lawful order of [the employer’s] representative obviously connected with [the employee’s] work.

It does not follow, however, that private [the employee’s] services were lawfully terminated either under Article [296] (a) of the Labor Code or under the CBA Schedule of penalties. We believe that not every case of insubordination or willful disobedience by an employee of a lawful work-connected order of the employer or its representative is reasonably penalized with dismissal. For one thing, Article [296] (a) refers to “serious misconduct or willful disobedience”. There must be reasonable proportionality between, on the one hand, the willful disobedience by the employee and, on the other hand, the penalty imposed therefor. Examination of the circumstances surrounding [the employee’s] assault upon his co-employee shows that no serious or substantial danger had been posed by that fistfight to the well-being of his other co-employees or of the general public doing business with [the employer]; and neither did such behavior threaten substantial prejudice for the business of his employer. The fistfight occurred inside the offices of the Surveyors’ Division, more particularly, Mr. Guangco’s office, away from the view of [the employer’s] customers or of the general public.

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In addition, the order does not necessarily have to come from the employer. If there is a law or the employee ought to observe by the very nature of his work, then that may be the basis for willful disobedience. For instance, drivers are required and expected to observe traffic laws.

In Sampaguita Auto Transport Corporation v. Sagad, the employee – a Bus Driver – was dismissed for non-compliance with company policies on safe driving and traffic laws, among others. Thus:

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CASE STUDY

Sampaguita Auto Transport Corporation v. Sagad

G.R. No. 197384, 30 January 2013

First. It is not disputed that the company called [the employee’s] attention to his negative actuations as a bus driver, which were reported by a company evaluator who boarded his bus on September 21, 2006. The evaluator reported that he was driving recklessly, racing and jostling for position on the road, thereby jarring the passengers on their seats, and picking up passengers on the middle of the road…

x x x

Second. He was also asked to react to the comments of conductors who had worked with him (Hemoroz and Lucero) to the effect that he proposed to them that they cheat on the company by making early (but not to be reported) bus trips. Further, there was Castillo’s evaluation dated October 13, 2006, rating [the employee’s] work performance as poor on account of: (1) the low revenue of [the employee’s] bus; (2) his inability to make all his scheduled trips; and (3) his habit of bringing his wife with him on his trips. Castillo also heard of talks of [the employee’s] orders to the conductors to earn money in a questionable way.

x x x

Lastly, the company cites [the employee’s] involvement in a hit-and-run incident on September 9, 2006 while driving his assigned bus…

… [The employee’s denial] vis-à-vis the incident, as well as those of Laude, are belied by the Traffic Accident Investigation Report which mentioned the “Unidentified driver of Public Utility Bus with plate No. NYK-216 and Body No. 3094.” The report was corroborated by the sworn statements of Ronald Apura, driver of the Elf truck, UFF-597, the second party in the incident, and Bibiana Fuentes, driver of the White Honda City, WDV-422 (owned by Purefoods Hormel Co.), the first party in the vehicular accident. There was also the letter to the company of Standard Insurance Co., Inc. dated February 14, 200747 demanding the reimbursement of P24,667.54 it paid to Purefoods Hormel Co. by way of damages sustained by the Honda City.

x x x

The irregularities or infractions committed by [the employee] in connection with his work as a bus driver constitute a serious misconduct or, at the very least, conduct analogous to serious misconduct, under the above-cited Article 282 of the Labor Code. To be sure, his tendency to speed up during his trips, his reckless driving, his picking up passengers in the middle of the road, his racing with other buses and his jostling for vantage positions do not speak well of him as a bus driver. While he denies being informed, when he was hired, of the duties and responsibilities of a driver — contained in a document submitted in evidence by the company — the requirement “3. to obey traffic rules and regulations as well as the company policies. 4. to ensure the safety of the riding public as well as the other vehicles and motorist (sic)” is so fundamental and so universal that any bus driver is expected to satisfy the requirement whether or not he has been so informed.

All told, we find substantial evidence supporting [the employee’s] removal as a bus driver…

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Further, the employers cannot order employees to do things that are unreasonable and unlawful. For example, it would be unreasonable to require a janitor to prepare tax forms for the company or require a truck driver to break traffic laws which is an unlawful or criminal act that could result in a penalty and even imprisonment.

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CASE STUDY

Cruz v. Roosevelt Colleges, Inc.

G.R. No. 73053, 15 September 1989

[The managerial employee – a College Dean – was dismissed after refusing to comply with the order to give up her 6 teaching loads so she can focus on a program.]

With these principles in mind, we find no grave abuse of discretion committed by [the lower courts] in ruling [the employee’s] dismissal legal. Considering the fact that she was holding a managerial position, her refusal to abide by the lawful orders of her employers would lead to the erosion of the trust and confidence reposed on her. Loss of confidence is a valid ground for dismissing an employee and proof beyond reasonable doubt is not required. All that is needed is for the employer to establish a sufficient basis for the dismissal of an employee. The grant of teaching loads was only a privilege since as Dean, her first and primary function was to administer the particular college under her care and authority. Hence, the decision of Roosevelt Colleges to take away her six (6) teaching loads so that she can handle the Agro-Forestry Program, with the same pay is found to be reasonable and lawful. (Emphasis supplied.)

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Again, the employer may only dismiss employees for willful disobedience if the order is reasonable, lawful, and made known to them.

d. Order pertains to employee’s duties

4th Requisite: The order must pertain to the duties which he has been engaged to discharge.

In Wenphil Corporation v. Mallare, the employee – an Assistant Head – was dismissed after a heated altercation with a co-employee and subsequent refusal to report to a superior to discuss the incident.

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CASE STUDY

Wenphil Corporation v. Mallare

En Banc, G.R. No. 80587, 08 February 1989

The theory of the [employer] is that… when [the employee] and Barrameda had a misunderstanding about tending the Salad Bar, [the employee] slapped Barrameda’s cap, stepped on his foot and picked up the ice scooper and brandished it against the latter. Marijo B. Kolimlim who was a management trainee tried to pacify [the employee] but he defied her so Kolimlim reported the incident to the assistant manager, Delilah C. Hermosura, who immediately asked [the employee] to see her. [The employee] refused to see Hermosura and it took the security guard to bring him to her. [The employee] then shouted and uttered profane words instead of making an explanation before her. He stated the matter should be settled only by him and Barrameda. The following day Kolimlim and Hermosura submitted a report on the incident and recommended the imposition of the appropriate penalties on both…

x x x

The defiant attitude of [the employee] immediately after the incident amounted to insubordination…

x x x

Thus, in the present case, where [the employee], who appears to be of violent temper, caused trouble during office hours and even defied his superiors as they tried to pacify him, should not be rewarded with re-employment and back wages. It may encourage him to do even worse and will render a mockery of the rules of discipline that employees are required to observe. Under the circumstances the dismissal of the private respondent for just cause should be maintained. He has no right to return to his former employer.

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In a landmark case, an employee as dismissed for having smoked. Generally, dismissal would be a harsh penalty for the violation of a no smoking policy by the employer. By way of exception, such a violation can justify a dismissal if there is a very important reason behind such rule as what happened in the case below.

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CASE STUDY

Northern Motors, Inc. v. Alcantara

En Banc, G.R. No. L-10022, 31 January 1958

[The employee – a Painter – was dismissed after violating the rule against smoking.]

… [the employee] was found to have smoked the painting booth of [the employer], contrary to its rules and regulations, and was declared to have been justifiably dismissed…

… It has been proved and is not disputed that [the employee] was an experienced painter and, having worked with the [the employer] for some time, he knew that smoking in a painting booth is extremely hazardous. Such smoking has been shown to be dangerous, because the painting booth contained inflammable dusts and materials and there were painters who could proceed to take up a spray gun and paint without warning, thereby multiplying the danger of conflagration from any flame. Indeed, the [the employer] insisted in the rule against smoking in the painting booth to protect the very lives of its employees, especially those in the painting booth. We are constrained to hold that [the employee’s] offense was grave and warranted his dismissal… (Emphasis supplied.)

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Again, the Northern Motors case is unique in the sense that the no smoking policy was strictly being implemented for the safety and security of the employees in a workplace filled with highly flammable and combustible substances.