Zero Tolerance Policies Are Stupid

But, that being said, there is something monumentally more stupid that zero tolerance policies, and that’s having one, and then not following it I can’t imagine what Tod will say when he sees this story except, “Arrgh!”

Look, regardless of how terribly bad (or not) a person feels about their violation of a policy, there’s the policy.  It’s right there.  And your feelings, as the perpetrator, aren’t the important thing… or even a relevant thing.  You’re the one that broke the policy.

An organization has responsibilities to its constituency.  And when you, as an organization, write a zero tolerance sexual harassment policy and then someone violates that policy, you have two choices.

You can live up to the promises you made to the constituency – including the perpetrator! – or get prepared to eat a big pile.

(side note: even under a more nuanced sexual harassment policy, this guy acted like a turd and deserves to get the book thrown at him)

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7 thoughts on “Zero Tolerance Policies Are Stupid

  1. Apparently the perpetrator here was a Somebody Who Kind Of Matters insofar as He Has Connections with some people and an organization who are more than tangentially important to Readercon.

    I think that factoid helps put all the pieces together.


    • Oh, I can read the dynamics all right.

      Still doesn’t change the fact that this sort of gerrymandering of the rules is exactly the sort of thing that will make people leave your org in droves.


      • This is a story I heard from my favorite high school teacher.

        “A few years ago, I was on the school’s athletic disciplinary committee. Somebody proposed a zero-tolerance policy for alcohol, and I said ‘Really? Zero-tolerance? What if it’s in Nome, Alaska? The kid and his family take a trip to Nome, Alaska, and while he’s there he has a beer. If we find out about it, are we going to kick him out?’ They said yes, zero-tolerance. And we voted and it won.

        “Then, during the football season our starting center got drunk in public and the police arrested him. Not even in Nome, Alasks. Right downtown. What should we do? You’d think it’s obvious: we have a zero-tolerance policy. But doubts start to arise. He’s our starting center, and there’s no backup half as good. We were going to be pretty good this year, but not without this guy. Is it fair to punish the rest of the team? They didn’t get drunk.

        “So they decided this: We have a zero-tolerance policy, and we’re going to suspend him for the entire year. Except for league games.”


    • On a more serious note, a good post Pat. I certainly have not quibbles with anything you say here.

      FWIW, were I to be giving my professional opinion to ReaderCon, I would say that their big slip up wasn’t having a no-tolerance sexual harassment policy – every organization should have one. It was having a policy that declared in advance exactly what the universal consequences would be (in this case life-time exile) for any infraction, without regard to circumstance. Far better for them right now to have the internet discussing what the appropriate punishment for the guy’s douche-baggery should be, not how they caved on their own policy.


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