Issue in dispute
When is insubordination serious enough to warrant dismissal? The circumstances of the matter is not always sufficient. However, if an employee is insubordinate to a superior in the presence of members of the public and/or other employees this will be an aggravating factor which may indicate that dismissal is an appropriate sanction.
In Ndwanya v South African Local Government Bargaining Council and Others (JR853/2011)  ZALCJHB 2 (7 January 2013) the employee (a legal officer at the Polokwane Local Municipality) refused to hand over a laptop belonging to the municipality after being asked to do so by his superior, a municipal manager. At first, the employee demanded that the police be present. This was insubordinate in and of itself. Upon the arrival of the police, the employee raised his voice and shouted at the municipal manager and insisted that he be allowed to download documents before handing it over. Subsequently the superintendent of the police also arrived.
The court held that there could be no doubt that the employee ought to have appreciated that the conduct of challenging his superior in the presence of not only other employees but the police superintendent was disrespectful and unprofessional. The superior’s instructions were reasonable and lawful and the conduct of the employee absolutely undermined the authority of his employer over him, The court confirmed that dismissal was an appropriate sanction.
Gross insubordination committed in the presence of third parties will most likely justify dismissal. It is also likely that less grave insubordination may not warrant dismissal if it is the employee’s first offence.