Key points
§  Add a note hereEvery employee has an implied contractual duty to co-operate with his (or her) employer, to carry out his duties to the best of his abilities, and to obey the lawful and reasonable orders of his superiors. If he is lazy and insubordinate, and refuses to do as he is told, he is liable to be dismissed.
§  Add a note hereThis is not to say that an employee can be required by his employer to carry out tasks that he is neither employed nor paid to do; or to work repeated and excessive overtime; or to transfer willy-nilly from one location to another. A great deal will depend on the existence or otherwise of an express or (less frequently) an implied term in the individual contract of employment, and on the circumstances at the relevant time.
§  Add a note hereFor instance, there may be a customary or long-standing arrangement in certain companies and businesses (notably those dealing directly with members of the public) for employees to share each other 's duties or to work overtime during staff shortages or times of seasonal pressure. If an employee refuses to do a particular job, on an isolated occasion, to help his employer over a temporary difficulty, his lack of cooperation will not go unnoticed. Indeed, in time, it could lead to his dismissal. The employment tribunals have long since upheld the prerogative of employers to manage their enterprises to the best of their ability. The dismissal of a disobedient and uncooperative employee will invariably be held to be fair, provided the employer is held to have acted 'reasonably'. At any event, the insubordinate employee is very often found out well before he (or she) earns the right to present a complaint of unfair dismissal to an employment tribunal.
§  Add a note hereWhether or not a single act of disobedience is so serious or damaging as to warrant the summary dismissal of an obstinate employee will depend again on the circumstances, including the size and administrative resources of the employer's undertaking. If his (or her) refusal to do as he is told endangers the health and safety of fellow-employees, customers or clients, he should be dismissed 'on the spot', provided he knew exactly what was expected of him and the risks involved. However, he should first be given an opportunity to explain his conduct and be reminded of his right of appeal.
§  Add a note hereIf an act of disobedience does serious and irrevocable harm to an employer 's business, threatens his licence, or results in the loss of valued trade, immediate dismissal may also ensue. Once again, the employer should satisfy himself that the employee knew exactly what was expected of him and the implications. A single lapse of memory, or a failure to understand what his employer was saying, may mitigate the seriousness of the offence in the eyes of an employment tribunal and challenge the 'reasonableness' of an employer who reacted over- hastily.
§  Add a note hereFor the avoidance of doubt, an employer should make it known to all new recruits (either at the interview stage or on their first day of work) that they will, from time to time, be expected to work overtime or to go to the assistance of other employees during busy periods or to cover occasional or unavoidable staff shortages. Thus, a cook in a busy restaurant might reasonably be expected to rinse out the occasional saucepan if the kitchen porter has been rushed off to hospital or has not turned in for work. A bank clerk could be asked to double as cashier during the lunch-time rush hour. A night shift foreman in a factory would be expected to remain at his or her post until the next shift has arrived; and so on.