Zero tolerance means that certain actions will absolutely not be tolerated under any circumstances. It is generally used in reference to policies that spell out exactly which actions are forbidden. For example, many schools have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to bullying. Any words, threats, or actions that are construed as bullying will be punished severely. A bully may even be suspended or expelled depending upon the intensity or the frequency of the behavior.
Many schools also practice this type of policy when it comes to weapons. No student may bring a weapon of any sort onto school property. This is for everyone’s protection. Harsh penalties are instituted to deal with violating weapons policies.
Zero tolerance policies are also sometimes included in places of business. Such a policy against theft, for instance, means that anyone caught removing anything from the premises, down to a tiny paperclip, may be written up, suspended, or terminated. For many companies, theft may also include making long distance phone calls from company phone lines or surfing the Internet while on the clock. Sexual harassment is another issue that is generally dealt with under zero tolerance policies in schools, places of business, and even the public arena.
Zero tolerance policies can be effective in some situations, but the problem with such policies is that they leave little or no room for mitigating circumstances. In the examples listed, it’s hard to imagine any circumstances that would be rewarded with tolerance or leniency. However, sometimes laws that attempt to regulate social behavior may go a bit too far. Of course, no one should be allowed to bully, threaten, or sexually harass another person, or to support terrorism, but too often, words or deeds are exaggerated.
If a boy asks a girl out, it should not be deemed harassment. If a child playfully says, "My dad can beat up your dad," it shouldn’t be deemed a threat. We certainly wouldn’t want any person who voices dissent to be labeled a terrorist sympathizer due to zero tolerance policies.