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Work-to-rule is an industrial action in which employees do no more than the minimum required by the rules of their contract, and precisely follow safety or other regulations in order to cause a slowdown, rather than to serve their purposes. Such an action is considered less disruptive than a strike or lockout; and just obeying the rules is less susceptible to disciplinary action. Notable examples have included nurses refusing to answer telephones and police officers refusing to issue citations. Refusal to work overtime, travel on duty or sign up to other tasks requiring employee assent are other manifestations of using work-to-rule as industrial action.
Work to rule has been described thus: " 'Work to rule' has a perfectly well-known meaning, namely, 'Give the rules a meaning which no reasonable man could give them and work to that.' "
Sometimes the term "rule-book slowdown" is used in a slightly different sense than "work-to-rule": the former involves applying to the letter rules that are normally set aside or interpreted less literally to increase efficiency; the latter, refraining from activities which are customary but not required by rule or job description but the terms may be used synonymously.
Work-to-rules are usually accompanied by the withdrawal of goodwill, for example insistence in taking all legally entitled breaks, and refusing to work unpaid overtime.
Sometimes work-to-rule can be considered by employers as malicious compliance as they pursue legal action against workers.
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