Working to Rule


Work to rule is a form of industrial action

There is no clear legal definition of industrial action but it is described as concerted action taken against the employer (as opposed to action taken by an individual) in order to put pressure on the employer in an attempt to achieve some objective . 

Employees will be taking part in industrial action if they:

  • collectively withdraw their labour, ie take strike action
  • refuse to undertake some of their duties to carry out reasonable instructions or otherwise not co-operate with the employer– this is a work to rule.

Strike action is a breach of contract, but it is not always clear whether industrial action short of a strike is a breach of contract. 

If the work to rule is a refusal to carry out normal duties which are required by the contract, employees will be in breach of contract. 

It is not as clear if these duties are implied in the contract rather than expressly included. 

Refusal to carry out genuinely voluntary duties is not a breach of contract but it may nevertheless amount to industrial action. 

Whether or not there is a breach of contract is important in relation to pay deductions. 

If there is a breach of contract, that will affect pay. The general principles are: 

Employees are not entitled to pay for any period when they are on strike.

Employees taking industrial action short of a strike but in breach of contract have:

  • no entitlement to pay if the employer decides to refuse to accept a partial performance of the contract and tells employees that they should attend work only when they are prepared to fully comply with their contracts and until they do so they will not be paid. The employer has to show that the partial performance has a fundamental impact on the core purpose of their job.
  • an entitlement to pay where the employer allows them to carry on working and instead makes an appropriate (reasonable) deduction from pay.