What does “zero tolerance” really mean?

April 8, 2011

We’ve all heard about so-called “zero-tolerance” policies.  They sound great and seem like they make a lot of sense, but if you think about it, can you really apply such concrete decision making to dealing with human behavior?

In this Washington Post article some “myths” about zero-tolerance policies are exposed.  This article was written primarily about the application of such policies in the school setting, I think it touched on many common themes that I deal with when consulting to work organizations.  Probably the main point I try to bring home when speaking with a policy maker (or policy implementer) is that “zero-tolerance” does not mean “termination.”  It simply means that the organization will not tolerate the identified behavior and it will take some sort of action against the employee, perhaps including risk assessment evaluation, discipline, education, demotion, etc.  Of course termination is still an option in these cases, but it is not the only option.

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