Can an employee be fired for refusing to perform a task which he believes is illegal and has no written directive to perform?

UPDATED: Mar 10, 2011

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Can an employee be fired for refusing to perform a task which he believes is illegal and has no written directive to perform?

As a security officer we have to use metal detecting wands on persons leaving the facility. Company handbook states that work space and personal effects are subject to search. It does not state the person is to be searched. No policy or procedure for conducting a search of a person exists. The search would also take place in a public area in full view of other employees. I was told to “pat down” workers. I said I would “if there was a written policy procedure to follow”. I was terminated a couple of days later. No explanation; no notice. My immediate supervisor also quit over this issue.

Asked on March 10, 2011 under Employment Labor Law, Nevada


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 12 years ago | Contributor

These are two very different issues.

1) Can a person be fired for refusing to do something illegal? No...or rather, he or she could be fired, but would have a wrongful termination lawsuit; he or she might also have a "whistleblower" suit against the employer (a chance to recover additional amounts) under certain circumstances.

2) Can a person be fired for refusing to follow verbal or oral directions? Definitely. There is no legal requirement whatsoever for written directions from an employer or supervisor. So if the act was in fact legal and an employee refused to do simply do to the lack of a written order or policy, the employee could clearly be fired.

Some security can pat down (e.g. prisons, airlines). You don't say where you worked, but if it's a facility where pat downs are allowed, then you could be terminated for not doing so, despite the lack of writing.

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