The term zero tolerance refers to policies that require a specific punishment for breaking a known rule or law. Zero tolerance policies are enacted as law or in environments such as workplaces or schools.
- A school has a rule that no students may create replicas in any way of guns whether for play or in seriousness. One student pretends to play by shaping his hand into a gun during recess time while another student brings a replica gun to school and brandishes it as though he is going to shoot a classmate. Both students receive the same punishment.
- In a workplace there is a policy against lateness. The person who is 30 minutes late receives the same consequence as someone who is 3 minutes late.
- In a community there is a "No Drug Zone." A person found with a small amount of marijuana is given the same punishment as a person found with extremely large amounts of cocaine.
- A school has a no weapons policy and a student receives the same consequence for bringing sharp nail clippers to school as a student who brings a pocket knife.
- Schools no drug policies can mean that students with cough drops or mouthwash can receive the same punishment as students found in possession of marijuana.
- A school sexual harassment policy states that no students can kiss or hug in school. As a result, a Kindergarten student who hugs another student can be expelled.
- A student who brings a model rocket to school can be expelled because the rocket propulsion can be considered a weapon.
- A zero tolerance terrorist threat policy can mean that a student who yells "I'm going to kill you!" in jest on the playground during recess can receive the same penalty as a student who calls in a bomb threat to the school.
- A zero tolerance "No Drug Zone" on a work property that includes tobacco can mean that a worker found smoking a cigarette on a break can receive the same consequence as a worker who is found with heroine on the job site.
A primary motivation for enacting a zero tolerance policy is to minimize unwanted behaviors. Zero tolerance policies also ensure that each individual who breaks a stated rule or law receives the same penalty. This prevents subjectivity in determining punishment for individuals.
The effectiveness of zero tolerance policies as opposed to other means of enforcing rules and punishments as consequences has been explored by many and is the topic of controversy in some groups and situations.
- Those in favor believe that the policies ensure that equal treatment is given to all and that a zero tolerance policy does reduce rule-breaking or criminal activity.
- Some dislike the policy because it is claimed that it discourages report of behaviors by some that witness the breaking of rules.
- Others believe that there are occasions of misuse or that the punishment enforced can be out of proportion to a given incident.
- Still other opponents claim that zero tolerance policies unfairly punish the "good guys" to serve as examples for others.
Now you have seen some real world examples of zero tolerance and can better form your own opinion on whether a zero tolerance policy is a good one or a bad one.