Rules, Rules, Rules
Workplace rules need to pass the reasonableness test if we’re expected to follow them. But the pandemic has changed our notions of what is reasonable
By Carla Brink, Representative
According to my personality profile, I appreciate rules. Rules keep us safe; we follow traffic laws when we commute to work, and we trust that others will follow those laws as well so the traffic flows smoothly and pedestrians have opportunities to safely cross the street.
In the same way, we follow health and safety laws, policies and procedures, and our collective agreements in the workplace. Rules keep life orderly and predictable; they help us to stay safe and to colour within the lines.
3 Rules about Workplace Rules
In workplaces, part of the union’s role is to help ensure that rules are reasonable, clearly communicated, and understood—particularly when a new rule is introduced.
- Rules need to pass the reasonableness test. They need to make sense, have a purpose, fit the circumstances, and be possible to follow. If rules don’t seem reasonable, we question them, we don’t take them seriously, and we start to bend and break them.
- Rules need to be clearly communicated. If an employer implements a new rule and does not tell anyone, or just puts up a tiny notice, it can’t expect employees to follow the rule. And the employer certainly is not justified in enforcing the rule through discipline. It is frustrating when an employee is asked to sign off on a rule without having an opportunity to read it, have it explained, or ask questions about it. Later, when they are spoken to about not following the rule, it is often discovered that they did not really know what the rule was.
- Rules should be understood. It is incredibly helpful to understand why a rule is in place. I remember in my grade 12 math class (quite some time ago) we were taught some complex formulas to use to solve problems. We were given time to memorize the formulas and apply them to standard problems. However, once the problems changed, it became clear that just memorizing the formulas wasn’t enough. As the problems became more complex, we needed to understand the why behind each formula so we could choose which formula to apply and use it properly. Once we were taught and understood why the formulas worked, it was much easier to apply them later on. In the same way, because rules can’t be written to cover every possible scenario, understanding the why helps us to extrapolate the intent of rules and apply them to different situations not specifically covered by a rule.
New Circumstances, New Rules
Lately, of course, we all have been faced with a new set of rules, guidelines, recommendations, and laws related to the worldwide pandemic. Under normal circumstances, some of those new rules would not meet the reasonableness test, but what is reasonable has been altered due to a new set of circumstances.
Communication of the new rules and recommendations has been a challenge due to frequent adjustments and new information. But I think, generally, we have been able to understand them and apply them to our daily lives.
In Alberta, I have really appreciated how Chief Medical Office Dr. Deena Hinshaw has informed us about the recommendations amid changing circumstances. During her press conferences, when she is asked a very specific question from a reporter about how a rule applies to a given situation, she often includes in her response a reminder about the why: to protect ourselves and those around us.
The key is that if we understand the purpose, we are much more likely to follow the rule. So for these new rules, and for any rule you are faced with, inform yourself: read, review, and most important, ask why.