10 Rules You’ve Broken at Work without Even Realizing

Some rules are made to be broken. But others aren’t.

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

Rules you've broken at work without realizing

As the old adage goes: rules are made to be broken. But there’s a time and a place for rebellion, and the workplace is not one of them — especially when your job is on the line.

Sure, it’s sometimes okay to break the rules at work (like skipping a deadline to work on something more important or changing how something is done because there’s clearly a better way to do it), but they’re there for a reason. And breaking them — whether consciously or unknowingly — can lead to disciplinary action or, worse, dismissal.

So, to ensure your professional reputation and job stay safe, we’ve a compiled a list of 10 rules that you might have broken at work without even realizing — and why you should avoid breaking them again.

1. Working from a different location

For many professionals, remote working is now the new norm. However, just because your employer permits you to work remotely, it doesn’t necessarily mean you can work from anywhere.

For example, working while visiting your in-laws in another city or taking a working holiday abroad may not be permitted. Depending on the company, you may only be allowed to work from your own residence. Therefore, it’s always best to communicate with your manager or HR department before working outside your home.

2. Creating cliques

Cliques are an all-too-common feature in many workplaces. But participating in a clique may actually be in violation of workplace policies, while it could contribute to a toxic workplace as your coworkers feel alienated.

Even if you’re closer with certain coworkers than others, it’s a good idea to make sure to include everyone. This will ensure you’re helping to create a more positive, inclusive workplace, and that you aren’t in violation of any written or unwritten workplace rules.

3. Using your work email for personal reasons

If you work full time, you’re most likely spending a large amount of your week working — and checking work emails. And since you’re already frequently checking your work email, you may think it would just be easier to use your work email address for personal reasons as well. But depending on your company policy, this may go against the rules.

The reason that using your work email for personal reasons may be prohibited is that it could be a security risk. Cyber threats, such as malware or phishing, frequently occur through email. So, using your work email for personal reasons means that your company is at a heightened risk of a cyberattack — and you’ll very likely be held accountable for it.

4. Taking jokes too far

Although work is, well… work, there’s no reason why it can’t also be fun sometimes. And having fun at work may even have some positive benefits for overall employee engagement, collaboration and productivity. So, the occasional banter and jokes among coworkers can be a positive thing — as long as they aren’t taken too far.

Any jokes around religion, politics or sex should be avoided in the workplace, as they could offend or alienate others. Certain jokes could even be considered harassment, which could lead to termination. So, it’s important to remember that while occasional joking or playing pranks at work is generally fine, it’s still a professional environment, and you’ll want to make sure you aren’t taking any jokes too far.

5. Not being data protection-compliant

Data breaches can be disastrous for companies. They can lower consumer trust, damage the company’s reputation, and even have legal consequences — and, ultimately, cost you your job.

For example, while you may think it’s harmless to send a client’s personal information via email, it may not be a secure channel for transferring data. To be on the safe side, it’s best to check if your company has a data policy or provides training on data handling.

6. Sending emails after hours

Since the start of the pandemic, the boundaries between work and personal life have for many become blurred. However, many workers would still prefer to keep a distinction between work and free time — and they would rather not receive work emails after hours.

But sending coworkers emails after they’ve clocked off isn’t only a matter of courtesy — it may even be against the law. Workers in France, for example, have the legal “right to disconnect” after working hours and don’t have to check emails.

That said, even if your country doesn’t have a law banning sending emails after working hours, your company may still have policies against it.

7. Visiting certain websites

During your lunch and coffee breaks, you’re technically off the clock. Therefore, it may seem as if you can spend that time as you choose. However, before scrolling social media or visiting certain websites on your work computer, you should ensure there is no company policy against it.

Although you may only be visiting certain websites during your breaks, and not while you’re on the clock, your employer may still prohibit you from visiting certain websites on your work computer. To be on the safe side, it’s best to only visit non-work-related websites on your smartphone or personal computer.

8. Taking home office supplies

Let’s say you run out of sticky notes at home, so you decide to just take some from the office. But you might want to think twice about it, as it’s technically workplace theft — which is grounds for termination.

While it’s unlikely that any company would fire a high-performing employee for stealing a pack of sticky notes, if they’ve been looking for a reason to fire an employee, even petty stealing would do the proverbial trick.

9. Not attending team-building events

You receive an email from your boss that they’ve planned a team-building activity next Friday evening. You have nothing else planned but aren’t a big fan of min golf and just don’t feel like going. However, before you decline, it’s best to check that these types of events aren’t stipulated in your employment contract.

Although the event is after work, you may still be required to attend if it’s stated in your contract. Therefore, if you don’t have a valid reason to not attend, it’s best to join in on any work events — even if you’d prefer to be doing something else.

10. Disclosing information

In certain industries, like healthcare, law or social work, confidentiality is paramount. However, even in other industries, a certain degree of discretion can sometimes be required.

For example, if your company is in the process of a merger, but this information is not yet public, you may be contractually required to stay tight-lipped. So, if you’re ever unsure whether a piece of information is confidential or not, it’s best to check with your HR department before disclosing anything to anyone.

Key takeaways

At one point or another, we’ve all accidentally broken a rule at work without realizing it. However, it’s important to be on the safe side and double-check if you’re ever unsure if you’re going against company policy or even law.

To be sure you aren’t in violation of any commonly broken rules at work, remember to:

  • Avoid using your work email for personal reasons.
  • Respect boundaries when it comes to sending emails outside of working hours.
  • Be extra careful with data and certain personal or sensitive information.

Mistakes at work happen. But by avoiding the 10 common transgressions above, you can be sure you maintain a shining professional reputation — and keep your job.

Can you think of any other workplace rules that are commonly, and unknowingly, broken? Let us know in the comments section below.


Originally published on April 29, 2015.