Get the zero out of your policies
One of my biggest pet peeves within the security field, and consequently the educational and corporate environments as well. There are innumerable people out there, consultants, the C-suite, lawyers, & innumerable others, who will tell you that you, with an absolute certainty, have to have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to…everything!
But is that really true? Of course it isn’t. How can it be? Having a zero tolerance policy and following through with it can lead to embarrassment & futile efforts to back-track. It can, in the extreme, certainly lead to a possibly violent incident, one of the things it was meant to avoid!
There are innumerable reports of a zero tolerance policy going awry in its use and enforcement. Schools especially are the culprits that get the most attention on the use of this policy. They suspend, and placing a black mark on a student’s record, for chewing their breakfast pastry into the design of a pistol.
And then there is the animal rescue who found a duck wandering on a sidewalk? It wandered away from an assisted nursing home where it was being kept as a pet by the elderly residents and had been for years, and after building a fenced in area complete with pond and waterfall. The rescue can be forced, by federal law, out of business and criminal indictment if they give it back.
And then there is the workplace. If an employee wanders by and picks up a partial conversation from others about using drugs or shooting up the business, they should turn it in. But should the employee who spoke it be suspended or terminated immediately upon the report being turned in to the supervisor?
By enforcing a zero tolerance policy, they should be. But what’s the context of what they were they talking about? Were they joking about drugs or discussing a different WPV incident? Without common sense and investigation you’ll never know. And by not knowing and doing the, too common, knee-jerk reaction you will get plenty of negative fall-out.
One way to look at that conversation is within the context of the 1st Amendment to the United States Constitution. That amendment assures everyone the freedom of speech no matter what it may be, with extremely few exceptions. Therefore, unless it’s a real and valid threat, a zero tolerance policy goes too far.
Does it mean that the individual can’t be counseled or otherwise disciplined by reprimand or a note placed in their file? No, it doesn’t. And 99% of employees will be horrified enough by this not to do it again, which is what we want the end result to be.
A zero tolerance policy, by necessity, has to be tempered with common sense & investigation, not a knee-jerk reaction. And in most cases it isn’t. Every time it’s enacted, it should be after an investigation, preferably immediately after the incident. And tempered with common sense.
As kids, most of us went around shooting and killing each other in frontier, war, or sci-fi games. Now kids can’t play games like that. Nor can adults in the workplace or in public many times, utilize their 1st Amendment rights without being threatened with being fired or disciplined and losing money because of the loss of their job.
We are so scared of being sued for having a ‘hostile’ learning or work environment. We don’t want to take the time to try and look at these things without passing summary judgment. With the attitudes in society today you would think we could be a little more tolerant and discerning. But we can’t.
We all need to be hyper vigilant, not hyper sensitive, about such things because of the world we live in. And we have to ensure that the policy is flexible & isn’t handed out in an unequal fashion. A zero tolerance policy has to have the one thing that it doesn’t. common sense.
We need to be paranoid or hyper vigilant. We need to look into and investigate these incidents that cause the zero tolerance policy to be enacted on an incident. Therefore should we automatically pass summary judgment and suspend or terminate someone for those incidents? No, absolutely not. We need to have the good judgment, common sense, and time to properly look at these before just passing the buck and blaming the policy.
We need to get rid of the zero tolerance policies in our schools and businesses and go back to the days of years gone by, utilizing common sense and not be hyper sensitive over small issues. Yes, we didn’t know a lot of things back then, but on the other hand we were also more intelligent about these things.
Can we use zero tolerance policies in our schools & businesses? Of course, they have their place. But they have to be tempered by the common sense, sensitivity, compassion, & investigation before any discipline is delivered.
Robert D. Sollars is a recognized expert on security issues, specifically workplace violence. He’s spent 32 years in the security field. Contact him at 480-251-5197 or Visit his Facebook page, One is too Many. Here you will read about other items related to security & WPV issues. Or be a twitter follower at @robertsollars2.
I May be Blind but my Vision is Crystal Clear