Failure to follow instructions

Failure to follow instructions is one of the most common grounds for discipline in the federal workplace. Yet, while the name is straightforward enough, not many federal employees know what the charge involves. This lack of knowledge can make it difficult to defend yourself if your supervisor is proposing disciplinary action against you for failing to follow orders. Here at Pines Federal, our experienced MSPB lawyers are passionate about empowering and defending federal employees. We wrote this article to fully explain the charge of failure to follow instructions. Read on to learn more about the charge and how to respond when your supervisor issues you a failure to follow instructions write-up.Please reach out to us online or call (800) 801-0598 today to request a consultation.

Breaking Down the Charge: Elements

When an agency charges an employee with failure to follow instructions, they must prove three specific elements. First, they have to prove that they issued you an instruction or order. Next, they must show that the instruction or order was lawful and proper. Finally, they have to show that you did not follow the instruction.

Clarity of the Instruction

Let’s unpack these elements in more detail, starting with the order issuance. One consideration here is that your employer’s instructions are clear. Specifically, they must be clear enough to notify you that you must do something. When your employer issues the instruction in writing (e.g., memo, letter, e-mail, handbook, etc.), it’s tough to dispute the clarity of the instruction. But in situations where the instruction was oral, then it’s a different ballgame entirely. In that case, the resolution of this issue will turn on the credibility of two witnesses: you and whoever claimed to issue you the instruction.

Proprietary of the Instruction

The second element is somewhat vague. What exactly is proper instruction? The general rule is that you must follow the agency’s directions unless doing so would place you or someone else in imminent danger or cause irreparable harm. These exceptions are few and far between. Consequently, the safest action for a federal employee is to follow the instruction and grieve it later. Many people call this the “obey now, grieve later” rule.

Following the Instruction

The third element is a fact-intensive examination. Maybe you thought you followed the instruction or did your best to comply. Or you may believe that they disobeyed the instruction by accident. Whatever the case, it’s an uphill battle. The charge of “failure to follow instructions” does not require the agency to show that you intended to disobey or intentionally failed to follow the instruction. That said, it can still help your case if a judge finds that you were unable to follow an instruction by accident. It might result in the judge mitigating your penalty down the road.

The Role of a Federal Employment Attorney

You may feel the temptation to represent yourself after your employer proposes disciplinary action against you. However, a federal employment attorney can make a massive difference in the outcome of your case. This is because of their legal training and experience with similar cases. A federal MSPB lawyer’s ample experience defending employees allows them to employ valuable tactics. For instance, you can produce facts to help you by asking the Deciding Official (or Proposing Official in discovery or at a hearing) why they didn’t charge you with insubordination if your misconduct was so severe. Rarely will a Deciding Official be able to answer this question satisfactorily. At closing, this gives you an argument that the misconduct was not as grievous as the agency wants the judge to think.

Reviewing the Charge Language: Insubordination vs. Failure to Follow Instructions

In addition, much will turn on the language in the specification for the specific charge. When you are charged with the misconduct of failure to follow instructions, it can be beneficial to have an attorney review the proposal letter. Many Agencies are not careful in drafting their charges and often include language that requires a heightened burden of proof. 

This is especially true when an agency tries to charge you with a mixed charge of “insubordination/failure to follow instructions.” When this happens, they will generally have to prove the charge of insubordination, which is much more difficult for them. After all, insubordination charges require the agency to prove that you acted with intent and willfully refused to follow an instruction. It also allows for a more significant penalty.

Are You a Federal Employee Facing Disciplinary Action for Not Following Instructions? Contact Us Today.

Responding to a charge of failure to follow instructions is not impossible. With education and the proper legal assistance, you can successfully overturn the charge and get your career back on track. However, you must involve an attorney in the process sooner rather than later. If you would like to consult with an MSPB attorney regarding your charge of failure to follow instructions, please contact Pines Federal online or call (800) 801-0598 today.