When failing to copy your boss in an email could get you fired

Labour Court was called to decide whether an employee’s failure to adhere to an instruction to copy her line manager in her emails warranted a dismissal.

According to Thabang Rapuleng, a director at Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr, the person was employed by Africa Flight Services as a customer service agent. Part of her duties included calculating payments.

On 3 November 2016, as a result of having provided clients with incorrect pricing, the employee’s line manager instructed her to stop issuing incorrect charges and to copy her in all future emails to clients involving pricing.

Following this instruction, the employee proceeded to forward pricing information, but omitted her line manager in her emails.

She was once again instructed to copy her line manager in emails in a separate meeting on 7 November, but failed again to do so. Her failure to comply with the instruction continued between 14 – 16 November 2016.

“On 16 November 2016, the employee was issued with a notice to attend a disciplinary hearing,” said Rapuleng.

“During the disciplinary hearing, she was charged with insubordination. She pleaded guilty to the charge and she was dismissed.

“Following her dismissal, she referred an unfair dismissal dispute to the CCMA challenging the fairness of her dismissal.

“She was not successful at the CCMA. Unhappy with the decision of the commissioner, she launched a review application at the Labour Court,” he said.

Labour Court finding

At the Labour Court, the employee argued that the commissioner’s decision was not reasonable because her conduct was not “serious and deliberate” because she lacked the necessary intention to defy her line manager, said Rapuleng.

Simply, she had just forgotten to copy her in the emails.

The Labour Court dismissed her review application. In his analysis, Judge Tlhotlhalemaje noted the following:

  • The employee failed to comply with the instruction on eight occasions between 3 – 15 November 2016;
  • Her misconduct was persistent, prolonged and could not be equated to an honest mistake;
  • The employee was instructed to copy her line manager more than once;
  • Copying someone on email was not a laborious task. It took less than a minute;
  • The instruction was lawful and reasonable because the employee was prone to providing inaccurate pricing to customers; and
  • The employee often challenged her line manager’s authority, knowledge and experience.

“The learned judge concluded that Ms Naicker’s conduct of consistently disobeying a simple, lawful and reasonable instruction was overall, wilful and serious,” said Rapuleng.

“He added that by failing to comply with the instruction, the employee disrespected her line manager and challenged her authority and he concluded that she was guilty of gross insubordination.

This case demonstrates that disobeying simple tasks may sometimes lead to gross insubordination, said Rapuleng.

“Employees are therefore warned not to disregard instructions they deem unimportant, especially if they are intended to achieve a legitimate business and/or operational objective.”


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When failing to copy your boss in an email could get you fired