Zero-Tolerance Policy in the Workplace: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:04 Understanding Zero Tolerance
  • 1:01 Benefits
  • 1:50 Special Considerations
  • 3:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Brianna Whiting
In this lesson, we will look at zero tolerance policies in the workplace. We'll learn what 'zero tolerance' means and use a real-life example to explore the benefits and possible downfalls of these policies.

Understanding Zero Tolerance

Imagine you are an employee at Burt's Manufacturing. While most days consist of productivity and friendly communication, one particular day ends quite differently. Instead of leaving with a smile, your co-worker Bill, leaves very angry. You see, earlier that day, Bill hit another worker after getting into a disagreement. As a result, he was immediately fired from his job due to a zero tolerance policy the company has in place.

So, what is zero tolerance? Zero tolerance is a way to eliminate undesirable behavior among employees and provide an automatic punishment for violating company rules. These policies keep those in managerial roles from bending the rules or to use their own discretion. Some of the more prominent issues that fall into a zero tolerance category include drug use, sexual harassment, violence, fraud, and racial discrimination.


Now that we know what zero tolerance is, let's look at some of the benefits. First, the policy outlines specific rules for the workplace. For example, Bill knew what the rules were at Burt's Manufacturing and what the consequences would be should he not obey them. Knowing that he would be fired for violence in the workplace, Bill still decided to hit another employee and was terminated from his job.

Another benefit of a zero tolerance policy is that employees can feel safe at work. When a company has a zero tolerance about violence for instance, an employee can go to work and not worry about falling victim to a potentially violent employee, such as Bill. While Bill initially caused harm to another employee, the zero tolerance policy at Burt's Manufacturing makes sure that he'd never be in a position to do it again.

Special Consideration

While a zero tolerance policy helps employees understand what is expected of them in the workplace, some people may argue that these policies may not always treat employees fairly. Furthermore, each policy should be tailored to each specific business, with consideration to the following questions that often present an argument against zero tolerance.

Repetition: First, while an employee may violate a zero tolerance policy once, how likely is he or she to do it again? Was it an isolated incident? Has he or she always been a model employee that suddenly had a bad day? Should one bad decision overshadow months or even years of outstanding work and behavior? For example, if Bill has always done great work for the company and followed the rules, why would he suddenly deviate from his normal behavior and make a bad choice?

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