Sometime back, I met with a young man about his work situation. He was told by his boss to do some things that the worker believed would violate internal policies. Every work place has rules unique to that work place. We describe those rules as internal rules or policies. The worker was essentially telling me he was enforcing the rules, even if his boss was not.

Well, I had to tell him that those rules are not binding on the employer. The employer can change them. Even in a large national corporation, the boss is basically the “employer.” The boss can ignore those rules. What if violating those rules places a worker at risk of physical harm? For example, if you work in a warehouse and the rule is never climb a ladder without a co-worker holding the bottom of the ladder. What if the supervisor one day says get a box down from the top shelf now, quickly, a customer is waiting? In effect, the boss is saying do not stop to find a co-worker to hold the ladder. Do you do what the boss tells you?

If the safety of a worker is involved, then that violation might involve OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) rules. But, otherwise, in an at-will state like Texas, the worker cannot say no. The only time a worker can say no in Texas is if s/he is asked to break a criminal law.

Even if violating the company’s internal rules also involves a possible OSHA violation, the worker still must respect his employer. If a worker refuses to follow an order from her/his boss, the worker will be accused of insubordination. So, in the same example, if the order from the boss did violate an OSHA rule, the worker cannot then refuse to climb the ladder without a co-worker holding the ladder. Since, if the worker refuses to climb the ladder, then he has been insubordinate. An employer can fire a worker for insubordination.

It may not be fair that the worker has so little control over acts that be unsafe. But, as I tell many folks, if you want fairness, if you want some control over your work, then form a labor union. Otherwise, in an at-will state, you have to do what the boss says.