“Rights”

by Mr. Cheap

This post ventures into legal and philosophical territory that is far beyond my areas of expertise.  If I get something grossly wrong, please correct me in the comments (and any readers, please be careful if you use any of this information, it’s even more questionable than my posts usually are).

I’ve often found the notion of “rights” quite interesting.  From basic human rights, to legal rights, to political rights, to employment rights.  There’s even a gamers’ bill of rights (“you have the right to be eaten by a ghost while playing Pacman…”).

Implicit in the idea of rights, to my mind at least, is that they are absolute.  Clearly this rarely occurs in practice. For example, freedom of speech doesn’t protect people who falsely yell “fire!” in a crowded movie theater and I doubt many U.S. prisoners feel entitled to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness“.  Clearly my expectations that these are absolutes is incorrect, as the first section in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms begins:

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

For those who missed it, the weasel phrase here is “reasonable limits”.  Society reserves the right to revoke our rights and beat us on the head with a stick if that becomes necessary.

In employment situations I’ve known people who find out some employment “right”, then spend large amounts of time insisting that it be absolutely and completely honoured.  Often they generate so much ill will that they are worse off than before the entire exercise began, even if they convince the organization to follow that rule.

A woman I’m friends with at the grad school is constantly asking what the rules are for this or that.  Recently she wanted to go on vacation and was asking around to find out what grad students are entitled to.  Her plan, I guess, is to go in to her supervisor’s office, say what the prescribed number of days of vacation is, then demand her supervisor give her that much time off.  When she asked me, I told her I’ve just asked for time off whenever I need it and my supervisor has said ok.  She blinked a few times, then asked me again if I knew what the official policy was. The end result is that she may force her supervisor into giving her time off (which she might have been given if she’d just asked:  I know her supervisor is VERY reasonable), but the next time she needs the rules bent for her I can imagine what the supervisor’s response will be.

Laws, rules and rights are all very important when two parties are unable to reach an agreement, but trying to reach agreement is an important first step before someone gets smacked in the face with a rule book.

Another friend of mine works closely with management at a union workplace.  She has, on a number of occasions, done things prohibited by their collective agreement (such as working unpaid overtime).  One year she got three raises / raises during the period where other workers got a single cost-of-living increase (the management she was working with juggled things around so that she’d qualify for a higher salary band).

I rented a basement apartment once from a couple who wanted to raise my rent.  They only gave me one month’s verbal notice (the residential tenancy act requires 3 months written notice of rent increases).  I knew this, but I told them I’d be ok with the increase if they’d let me only give them 1 months notice when I was going to move (more flexibility was better for me than delaying the increase).  The act requires 60 days notice by a tenant who wants to leave.  By mutually agreeing not to obey parts of the tenancy act, we were able to reach an agreement that was better for both of us.

Have you had situations where you and another party ageed to ignore a rule, policy or law?  Did it work out well for you or lead to problems?

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