What is Work to Rule?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Work to rule may occur with dissatisfied employees, who only perform the minimum amount of work required by contract.
Work to rule may occur with dissatisfied employees, who only perform the minimum amount of work required by contract.

Work to rule is a labor practice that is sometimes employed as a means of workers logging dissatisfaction with employers. Essentially, in a work-to-rule situation, employees remain on the job and carefully perform each and every task that is explicitly associated with the work position. However, the employee ceases to perform any ancillary tasks that may be related to the core duties associated with the job.

In many instances, employees do tend to perform tasks that are not directly related to the job description of the position held. For example, the job description for an Accounts Payable clerk may not explicitly include tasks that are associated with helping to generate invoices to customers. In a work to rule situation, the AP clerk would perform the Payable functions considered to be directly associated with the position, but would not touch anything connected with the Receivables. Thus, the clerk is performing the minimum required by contract, and is in theory less likely to be disciplined for non-compliance or failure to perform the minimum required to retain the position.

Work to rule is sometimes utilized when employees are unhappy with working conditions, but do not wish to stage a walkout or force a shutdown of the business. The idea behind the work to rule is that it is possible to make the point by ceasing to perform what amounts to extra tasks above and beyond the basic job description. Ancillary tasks that remain undone can make it clear to the employer how much above and beyond the basic terms of the work contract are handled by the employees on a daily basis, and thus encourage employers to listen to employee demands and work to reach a resolution that is mutually agreeable to both parties.

However, it should be noted that not all employers react favorably to the work to rule strategy. Many employee contracts today contain clauses that allow for a broader interpretation of duties related to a given position, often allowing the employer to add tasks that are not specifically addressed in the original contract. When this is the case, the employer may determine that work to rule is in fact a violation of the work contract and terminate the employee on the basis of non-compliance.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments

MissDaphne

This kind of protest is tailor-made for teachers (my profession). I've never been involved in one myself, but a friend of mine was part of it.

See, teachers can't really do a labor strike; it's often against their contract and plus it makes them look bad. But most teachers do a lot more work than their "contract hours." They come in early and stay late.

So when they do a work to rule protest, they come in exactly at 8:30 or 7:45 or whatever their contract calls for and leave at precisely 2:45 or 3:15 or whatever. No late parent conferences, no extra planning, etc.

anon35432

Address the issue of when there is already a team of person already getting paid to do a job but other woirkers who are not getting paied to do that job and did not apply for that job are being forced to do other employees' work.

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    • Work to rule may occur with dissatisfied employees, who only perform the minimum amount of work required by contract.
      Work to rule may occur with dissatisfied employees, who only perform the minimum amount of work required by contract.