Logical People Share How Stupid Rules Have Backfired

January 7, 2019 | Mathew Burke

Logical People Share How Stupid Rules Have Backfired


Every rule is created with some kind of goal or purpose in mind—but sometimes, that purpose is far from what actually works when it’s implemented in real life.

There can often be even more unintended consequences than there are intended ones following a policy implementation—and it’s safe to say that some of these consequences nobody saw coming. Believe me, the unforeseen results of some rules can be truly ridiculous!

Here are 42 stories of new rules gone terribly wrong in the most epic ways possible.


42. Scheming While Impaired

My company has a strict no alcohol policy. You can't begin work within 10 hours of having had a drink.

So whenever there's a staff shortage and they need me to come in right away, guess who just cracked open a cold one?

Stupid Rules Backfired factsShutterstock

41. Immigration Reform

When I worked for the immigration department, some bright spark decided that we weren't going to remove people who had been caught smuggling drugs from certain countries. They believed it was too risky to deport people who had failed to complete their missions back to angry gang leaders.

News traveled quickly and within a few weeks, there was a huge spike in smuggling. People were smuggling drugs and immediately handing themselves over to authorities to guarantee that they wouldn't get deported. In addition, dealers found it much easier to convince people to attempt to smuggle drugs because it was a win-win for all parties. The whole idea was scrapped pretty quickly.

Stupid Rules Backfired factsGetty Images

40. Bang for Your Buck

My work has an infraction system. If you're a minute late, that's half a point. If you're up to four hours late, that's also half a point. So, if you're going to be a minute late, you might as well be four hours late, because it's the same penalty!

Stupid Rules Backfired factsGetty Images

39. Collective Punishment

A salon I worked at one day decided to drug test all the hair stylists. Out of 12 stylists, 11 failed.

The manager texted everybody the next day and asked them to come back to work.

Stupid Rules Backfired factsShutterstock

38. Baa Baa Welsh Sheep

A long time ago, English law in Wales set the death penalty as the punishment for stealing a sheep. Welshmen who were caught stealing sheep would claim to be making love to them. They would then get a lesser penalty for that crime instead of theft. The consequence of this was that the Welshmen gained a reputation as sheep shaggers. At least they didn't die!

Stupid Rules Backfired factsWikimedia Commons

37. Party Animals

A hotel I used to work for decided they were having an alcohol-free holiday party. This didn't sit well with the people who'd been working there for years and were accustomed to a full bar at the party.

The staff parking lot ended up being full of people drinking in their cars, trying to get a good buzz to carry them through the party. Most people ended up getting way drunker than they would have, so the party was a mess.

Stupid Rules Backfired factsShutterstock

36. Backfire by Proxy

My institute banned the use of adult sites on its Wi-Fi. Most people weren't tech savvy or bold enough to ask how to bypass it. Then the institute banned Facebook. Everyone learned how to use a proxy to get around it in a matter of days.

Let's just say that many adult websites began appearing on their Wi-Fi at that point…

Stupid Rules Backfired factsShutterstock

35. Pick Your Poison

My high school put in a policy that after the third time you were late, you got detention. They didn't change the absence policy.

Tardiness decreased by 52%. Absences increased by 83%.

Stupid Rules Backfired factsShutterstock

34. Late Is the New Punctual

A famous example from Freakonomics was when a daycare started charging a small fine for parents who picked up their children late. Instead of resulting in more on-time arrivals, the new policy actually caused more late pick-ups. This is because the parents were originally worried that a late pick-up would be a significant burden on the daycare employees, but because the fine was so small (only a few dollars), they decided that it must not be a big inconvenience for the daycare.

Stupid Rules Backfired factsShutterstock

33. Who Done It?

I worked at a contract agency that works with Child Protective Services. CPS policy is to never tell the parent who called CPS on them, but my agency’s policy was to always inform the primary caretaker if one of our social workers called it in. Obviously, this irrevocably destroyed our rapport with our clients. Imagine telling a parent you called CPS on them only to knock on their door the next week to “listen to their concerns.” The agency made a joke out of itself, and all potential for case progression was out the door. Stupid rule if you ask me…

Stupid Rules Backfired factsGetty Images

32. Tailgaters

Alcohol bans at college football games have led to increased drunk driving and intoxication problems because fans are loading up before going to the stadium.

Stupid Rules Backfired factsFlickr

31. Wicked Witchcraft

I went to a Catholic school.

This school started out not having any problem with Harry Potter. The library even had every available book at the time.

Then, some paranoid parent cried Satanism and witchcraft, so the school banned Harry Potter.

Suddenly, Harry Potter books are an underground commodity. The school had a black market trade for new and used Harry Potter books and things only got worse when expulsion was threatened for being caught with one: a new Harry Potter book was worth its weight in gold.

Finally, the school had to go all the way to the bishop to ask about the Harry Potter books and he said "Nah, the books don't really teach Satanism. What's all this about a black market book trade?"

So the school lifted the ban and told the parents to cool it.

Stupid Rules Backfired factsMax Pixel

30. Checked Out

I worked at Macy’s one Christmas and found out the reason why you can never find anyone at the registers is that they don’t allow employees to stand at the register—they consider it “intimidating.” I can’t tell you how many times I gave up on trying to purchase something there because I couldn’t find anyone to ring me up.

Stupid Rules Backfired factsShutterstock

29. On the Rocks

During the morning announcements one day when I was in kindergarten, they came on and said "Students are not allowed to throw snowballs. There is a chance you might accidentally get some rocks in them." You could see the instant realization on the faces of all 20-some students that "OMG, we could put rocks in them!"

Stupid Rules Backfired factsFlickr

28. Skirting Around That Policy

Last summer in Sweden, bus drivers in some counties started wearing shorts due to the heatwave. After being denied the right to continue doing so by management, they started wearing skirts instead. Dress code policies banned shorts, but not skirts.

Stupid Rules Backfired factsShutterstock

27. Size Does Matter

My workplace used to have a two-beer limit for lunch. They never specified the size of the beers…

Stupid Rules Backfired factsFlickr

26. Garbage Disposal

One of the high rise blocks I have to maintain has a sign saying "Anything left here will be removed due to it being a fire risk."

People just dump their garbage there, like old fridges and sofas. By law, we have to take it.

Stupid Rules Backfired factsShutterstock

25. The Shirt Off Your Back

The previous school I worked at decided that all shirts needed to have the school name or emblem (which was a fancy letter 'E') on them to be dress code appropriate. That's all the handbook said. No clarification on how the name or emblem was designed or the color or if it had to be permanently affixed to the clothing.

The students hated the policy and, being in high school, they looked for any loophole possible. They found one due to the lack of clarity of the handbook policy. The kids would make paper emblems and pin them to their shirts. Thus, they could wear whatever they wanted and were still dress code compliant. I thought it was pretty genius. The administration did not.

Stupid Rules Backfired factsPexels

24. Left High and Dry

Dry counties were meant to reduce the use of alcohol in certain areas, but they result in people who want to get drunk driving further away from home to do so—increasing the odds and frequency of drunk driving accidents. Many attempts to rescind these laws end up getting countered by campaigns paid for by the bars and liquor stores that set up on the edge of dry counties, typically under the guise of religious messages.

Stupid Rules Backfired factsPexels

23. Better Late Than Never

My high school had a rule that if you arrived late (after the first bell), you couldn't park in the parking lot. You'd have to park at the gas station down the highway and walk to school, making you even later.

It stopped after 20 or so people intentionally showed up late to school and made a mass exodus along the highway.  Well, that and a lot of parents complaining.

Stupid Rules Backfired factsShutterstock

22. You Dirty Rat!

In French Indochina, there was a major problem with rodents eating supplies and bringing disease. Given the plentiful supply of cheap unemployed workers, the colonial authorities thought they could be used to kill the rats and bring their numbers down. The French had a somewhat racially prejudiced view of the work ethic of the locals, so they decided to pay them per rat killed rather than per hour worked. Each was compensated for every dead rat they handed over.

A year or so later, the colonial authorities discovered the peasants had set up rat-breeding farms in the jungle.

Stupid Rules Backfired factsWikipedia

21. Dress for Success

If you violated the dress code policy, you had to wear these really big gray sweatpants or sweatshirts that said DCV in big orange letters. It became a thing to get caught because they were apparently really comfortable. When the admin finally caught on that people were trying to get them on purpose, they changed it so that you got an in-school suspension. Jokes on them for that too—lots of kids preferred that over being in class.

Stupid Rules Backfired factsShutterstock

20. On the Road Again

Recently in Kenya, our governor in Nairobi banned public transport from entering the town, so people had to walk long distances to work. And since we don’t have enough pavements, people ended up walking on the roads—like, 3,000 people. There was a traffic jam that lasted for more than five hours because of this. The next day the ban was removed.

Stupid Rules Backfired factsPixabay

19. Uncovering the Truth

Korea has officially banned adult videos and photos in their nation. This has helped it become home to the largest black market for it in the world.

Stupid Rules Backfired factsShutterstock

18. Goooooals!!

Let’s not forget the infamous Barbados vs Grenada soccer match of 1994.

The organizers made a rather odd change to the rules for extra time. If a game was still tied at full time, it would go to extra time but the first goal scored would win. What was different was that they ruled that winning this way would count as having won by two goals for the purpose of tournament qualification, instead of just one.

Barbados went into a match against Grenada needing two goals to qualify for the main tournament. If they lost, or won by only one goal, Grenada would qualify instead. Under the regular rule, this would mean that if the match went to extra time, there would basically be no point in Barbados playing because, even if they scored, they would only win by one goal and therefore not qualify. But the two-point rule would motivate them to play on. Sounds good, right?

Well, you might be able to guess what happened.

The match looked like it was about to end with Barbados winning 2-1—i.e., a win for Barbados, but not by the two goals they needed. So Barbados deliberately scored an own goal in the last few minutes of the match, making the score 2-2, hoping to trigger extra time and a chance to score the magic 2-value goal.

The Grenada players quickly realized they could do the same—score an own goal to make the match 3-2 to Barbados, which would have Barbados winning by only one goal, so Grenada would qualify.

But the Barbados players realized that too—and so they began to defend Grenada's goal.

So for the last 7 minutes of the match, Grenada was trying to score a goal in either net, and Barbados was defending both.

Amazingly, Barbados did actually manage to successfully defend themselves while half of their team was defending Grenada's goal against Grenada. They then scored the golden goal in extra time and qualified!

Stupid Rules Backfired factsShutterstock

17. Grabbing the Bully by the Horns

The Zero Tolerance Policy for no violence at schools is ridiculous. If any violence breaks out, anyone involved gets punished equally. So if someone bullies you, you get punished for it. Yea, THAT was a smart idea…

Stupid Rules Backfired factsShutterstock

16. It’s Getting Hot in Here

Washington State made it mandatory for schools to drop their room temperatures to save on electricity. The result: teachers brought their own heaters into their offices and use of electricity increased.

Stupid Rules Backfired factsMax Pixel

15. Chain of Command

"Don't do anything unless directed by your boss. Any deviation from this will result in write-up/termination."

This was a very literal directive from upper management that took place after an office incident. Our work is very fluid, and our team alone contained 20 people. Needless to say, productivity hit unprecedented lows.

Stupid Rules Backfired factsFlickr

14. A Matter of Life and Death

When I went to college, the hospitals had a policy where if someone came in with alcohol poisoning and they were underage, then they'd also call the cops. So, of course, what happened was that when underage kids really should have gone to the hospital, their friends wouldn't call an ambulance because of their fear that the cops would punish them. Luckily, while I was there, there weren't many deaths due to alcohol poisoning—but there were still a few.

Stupid Rules Backfired factsWikimedia Commons

13. Even I Think This One Sounds Odd

Air pollution became a big problem in late-‘80s/early-‘90s Athens, mostly due to the number of old, heavily-polluting cars on the roads. So the Greek government made a law where only cars with odd-numbered final digits on their number plates could be driven on odd-numbered days and only evenly-numbered cars could drive on evenly-numbered days. Sounds great, doesn't it?

Nope—everyone bought one old, highly-polluting car that had an odd-numbered plate and another with an even-numbered plate. Nobody could park and the air was worse than before.

Stupid Rules Backfired factsPxHere

12.  Slow and Steady Wins the Race

I'm a programmer. On a previous job, the developers and teams were measured by the number of feature requests they completed.

We figured out to subdivide everything to blow it up into the maximum number of feature requests possible. A manager might request a new report. We'd set up separate feature tickets for "create button", "make button blue", "make button respond when clicked", "implement business logic", "display results in grid", "allow sorting of grid", and so on. We'd subdivide a 1-day task into 20 one-hour tasks.

Management loved it! Our team looked twenty times as productive, despite deliberately slowing ourselves down with red tape.

Stupid Rules Backfired factsPixnio

11. Holy Smokes!

My office had a policy that only smokers would get breaks throughout the day. It sure didn't help anyone trying to quit cigarettes, nor did it do any favors for productivity in our workplace.

Stupid Rules Backfired factsShutterstock

10. Hate and Marriage

At one point in history, the president of Paraguay tried to eliminate racism by making it illegal to marry someone within your own ethnic group.

Needless to say, this was quite racist.

Stupid Rules Backfired factsShutterstock

9. Boys Will Be Boys

When I was in elementary school, Magic The Gathering and the Pokémon card game were pretty popular. Almost all of the guys would get together after lunch to play before classes started again.

Pretty soon, the school decided to ban all card games.

Well, you now suddenly have several dozen pre-pubescent boys with about 30 minutes of free time daily and nothing to do. So we did boy stuff. Ran around, pushed each other, went places we weren't supposed to, just overall got into mischief. All this time, the cards had been a free babysitter that was keeping us all engaged, quiet, and civil—all while reinforcing quick math skills and teaching multi-level problem-solving.

The next year we got a new administrator and card games were allowed at school again.

Stupid Rules Backfired factsFlickr

8. All You Can Eat

"You have to eat whatever you touch" was a rule in my kindergarten class. It led to all the children touching all the food they could find to call dibs on it.

Stupid Rules Backfired factsShutterstock

7. Road Rage

When Domino’s said all pizzas would be delivered in 30 minutes or less, or your pizza was FREE.

All the delivery drivers began getting into car accidents and getting speeding tickets trying to get your pizza to you on time, so it wouldn’t come out of their paycheck. It was a short-lived venture.

Stupid Rules Backfired factsFlickr

6. Trashing the Rules

My middle school wanted to create a "trash free environment," so they removed all the trash cans from the parking lots, halls, and cafeteria. They just told the kids to "toss your trash when you get home or back to a classroom."

The amount of litter skyrocketed overnight, and after a week or so they brought back the cans.

Stupid Rules Backfired factsShutterstock

5. You’ve Got Mail

I worked somewhere with a clean desk policy on Friday afternoons. The common way around this was that everyone would just sweep all their paperwork into an envelope and then stick it into the internal mail. It would then arrive back on your desk on Monday morning.

Stupid Rules Backfired factsPixabay

4. Say Ahh!

My office made a policy demanding that everyone come in when sick so that the boss can personally inspect and determine whether you are actually sick, since doctor’s notes can be faked.

I came in and vomited on his desk all over very important papers during his “inspection”. No regrets.

Stupid Rules Backfired factsShutterstock

3. Hole in One Window

My school banned all balls larger than a couple of inches in diameter because someone kicked a football through a window during lunch.

Most of us used to walk home past the woods beside a golf course and had a ready supply of golf balls as a result.

Golf balls were allowed under the new rules due to their size.

3 broken windows in one lunch period later, they weren't.

Stupid Rules Backfired factsShutterstock

2. How Do You Say ‘Stupid’ in French?

I had a crazy French teacher who banned getting out of your seat during class for any reason. She was constantly handing out detentions for things as inconsequential as walking to the trash can to throw away a piece of paper. She absolutely could not deal with the fact that we periodically might need to actually leave our chairs for a perfectly valid and harmless reason. One day, she accidentally locked herself out of the classroom and nobody would let her back in. "Sorry! We aren't allowed to get out of our seats!"

Stupid Rules Backfired factsShutterstock

1. Safety First

In my dorm, if you did something that triggered the smoke or fire alarm, you had to do a safety presentation for everyone on your floor. This was intended to deter pranksters from pulling the alarm.

A guy on our floor was making grilled cheese in the kitchenette and burned it, which legitimately triggered the fire alarm. Since it had been a legitimate alarm and not a prank, he assumed that he wouldn't have to do a presentation. He was, of course, wrong.

So, the next Wednesday night, the entire floor assembled, and we were treated to a 30-minute safety presentation on the dangers of grilled cheese sandwiches. It contained literally nothing about fire safety. It was all about choking hazards and cholesterol.

Our RA was furious, but the student pointed out that the write-up that he'd been given just said "safety presentation".

We didn't get any more presentations after that.

Stupid Rules Backfired factsShutterstock

Sources: Reddit,


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