Understanding the Duty of Employees to Follow Lawful and Reasonable Directions


In the intricate dance of employer-employee relationships, one of the foundational principles is the duty of employees to adhere to lawful and reasonable directives issued by their employer. While this obligation is implicit in employment contracts, it’s often explicitly agreed upon and enforced, especially in the public sector, where legislative mandates amplify this duty. Let’s delve into the legal framework surrounding this duty and its implications for employers and employees.

Legislative Basis for Compliance

In the public sector, the duty for employees to follow lawful and reasonable directions is enshrined in the Public Service Act, forming the bedrock of the Australian Public Service Code of Conduct. The Act unequivocally states that employees must comply with directives issued by authorised personnel within their agency. This legislative foundation underscores the significance of obedience to directives in maintaining organisational order and integrity.

Defining Reasonable Direction in Law

The legal notion of reasonable direction traces back to historical precedents, establishing that a directive is lawful and reasonable if it pertains to the individual’s employment, avoids illegality, and is deemed reasonable in the given circumstances. Further clarification from the Australian Public Service Commission emphasizes that directives must uphold proper values expected of public servants and maintain public confidence in the integrity of the service.

Limits and Boundaries

However, the authority of employers to issue directives is not boundless. Employees are not obligated to comply with directives that fall outside the scope of their employment, even if otherwise deemed reasonable. Precedents illustrate that employees retain autonomy in matters unrelated to their work duties, safeguarding their rights in personal domains.

Illegal Directives and Consequences

Importantly, employees have no obligation to adhere to illegal directives, whether in contravention of legislative requirements or fundamental rights. Failure to comply with lawful and reasonable directives can lead to disciplinary measures or even termination of employment. Disputes often arise over the legitimacy of directives, with legal ramifications under the Fair Work Act 2009 or APS Code of Conduct.

Navigating Compliance Challenges

Employers and employees must tread cautiously in navigating the complex landscape of lawful and reasonable directives. Employers must ensure directives align with legal standards and organisational policies, while employees must discern between legitimate directives and encroachments on their rights. Seeking legal counsel or HR guidance can provide clarity in resolving compliance challenges and mitigating risks of disputes or adverse actions.

Balancing Obligations and Rights

The duty of employees to follow lawful and reasonable directions is a cornerstone of effective workplace governance. While employers wield authority to issue directives in the interest of organisational objectives, employees retain rights to autonomy and protection from unlawful directives.

Striking a balance between compliance and safeguarding rights is paramount for fostering a harmonious and lawful work environment, and ensuring mutual respect and accountability between employers and employees.


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