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What is Zero Tolerance?

By Sherry Holetzky
Updated May 23, 2024
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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.

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Discussion Comments
By cafe41 — On Nov 07, 2010

That is so sad. I am glad the child is back in school. I think that zero tolerance driving laws are required.

Having laws on the books that have zero tolerance DUI or zero tolerance drinking laws is required to keep people safe.

People should lose their license the first time they are found driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. They not only endanger their lives, but the lives of others as well.

In 2002, over 40,000 people died in a car accident and about 40% of these cases were alcohol related. This is why states have toughened up on these zero tolerance laws because many people become overconfident when they drink and do not understand how they are actually impaired until it is too late.

There was a case of a mother who had five children with her, four of which were her own children and ended up killing everyone in the car including herself because she was driving under the influence of drugs. This is why people like this should have never been given a driver’s license.

By SauteePan — On Nov 07, 2010

RecNGwLD-I am sorry that you lost your job. Zero tolerance policies are developed to ensure the safety of the public that it serves.

It is not always perfect, but most feel that these types of polices are necessary in order to curb the possibility of developing negative situations from undesirable behavior.

Sometimes the zero tolerance policies may go too far and actually victimize people. For example, there was a case in Broward County Schools in Florida in which a child was expelled from school for an entire year because he brought a toy gun to school.

The school board had a zero tolerance policy against weapons, but they did not make an exception in this case because the item was not a weapon, but merely a toy. The child is now back in school a year later, but he has to have a series of tutors in order to catch up academically.

He was homeschooled for the year that he was expelled, but his father worries that his child has lost a lot of ground academically. This is really the problem with rules like this. The child clearly brought a toy and there is a significant difference between a toy gun and a real one.

By RecNGwLD — On Sep 18, 2008

Zero Tolerance at work works pretty much the same way. It can keep bullying, sexual harassment, and other unprofessional behavior in check. It can make for bully-free, disrespect free, work environment. The downside of that is, a person who's a good worker but has a bad day may find himself out of a job if he has one moment where he behaves unprofessionally. He'll be out the door regardless of how good of a work ethic he practiced.

Here's my ZT story from the workplace. a couple of years ago during the Christmas season I was working at a large warehouse. It paid well too. I showed up for work every day and put in a hard days work from clock in to clock out. One day I raised my voice to someone in the picking area. the associate whom i raised my voice to then complained to the manager. I was terminated for that. It made no difference what so ever that I showed up for work every day and practiced a good work ethic.

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