Zero Tolerance and Business Ethics

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One size never fits all

Sometimes we are so mired in technicalities that we lose touch with the basics. Before we scrutinize the situation, let us remind ourselves of some fundamentals that constituted our current policy.

Yes, there was an unfortunate incident where an armed man stormed into the office premises with demands that lead to general discomfort of all employees. The HR department then formulated the "Zero Tolerance" policy for Applied Devices. A comfort for the HR department would be that it enjoyed strong executive support, but what exactly were they trying to prevent?

The list of not tolerated "doings" added on from then on to a comprehensive one which defined a standard of behavior at Applied Devices. The proportion of the wrong doing to the damage it would lead to was not of concern and the punishment remained the same; immediate termination. One size fits all!

The history of "Zero Tolerance" can be traced back to controlling drug abuse aboard sea crafts, to schools that adopted such policies to control drug and ammunitions (Russ Skiba and Reece Peterson [Available Online :Last access 29-12-2006]). The persistence with such policy is due to fear of random occurrences and hence trying to send a strong message to potential violators. Although zero-tolerance policies are rules enacted by school districts for the purpose of addressing problems such as safety and discipline, they can sometimes be interpreted or used as an excuse by officials for not taking responsibility for the environment in which inappropriate conduct occurs. This happens when behavior is addressed without exploring the circumstances of the situation and the root causes of the attitudes stimulating the behavior.(School Mobbing and Emotional Abuse: See It, Stop It, Prevent It, with Dignity and Respect:Book by Gail Pursell Elliott; Brunner-Routledge, 2003) The results however have not proved to be conclusive. Skiba and Peterson also cite Pedro Noguera who wrote in the Harvard Educational Review that "the primary function of harsh punishment is not to change the behavior of the recipient, but to reassert the power of authority."

There are clear advantages of a zero tolerance policy:

1.The image of the company with its external stakeholders is steady in an ethical sense. 2.The policy is fair and does not discriminate or favor anyone. 3.Many unwanted incidents can be avoided.

4.To channel the employees to perform as per company stipulations

There are disadvantages as well:

1.Misapplication of the policy might far exceed any appropriate application. 2.The policy in its inception arenas, have not been proven to be efficient. (Ewing, C. P., & First, J. (2000). The pros and cons of zero tolerance. Retrieved May 31, 2005,[Available online < http://www.edletter.org/past/issues/2000-jf/zero.shtml >]Last access 29-12-2006)

3.The policy does not ensure safety or ethics of the organization at the end.

Ethics are very important in the workplace. A comprehensive view of the same was portrayed by Josephson Institute enumerating the hidden costs of unethical behavior.[Available online < http://www.josephsoninstitute.org/pdf/workplace-flier_0604.pdf> Last access 29-12-2006] Granted, that a strict approach to potentially dangerous situations is necessary if not compulsory to protect one and all from random incidents of grave consequences; but does that warrant all violations as per the code of behavior be treated the same way?

By treating all misconducts with the same punishment is not to align the mentality of employees with that of the company more so to thrust it upon them. We would have to differentiate between criminal offenses of extreme consequences and misdemeanors that would not be acceptable.

Such a policy would of course make anyone think twice before carrying a gun, drinking during office hours, indulging in narcotics or participating in any kind of industrial crimes. But it would also restrict the...
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