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.