Zero Tolerance

By now many of you may have heard about the recent spates of unfortunate incidents involving Ottawa city bus drivers. The most recent incident involves a city bus driver caught by a passenger with a cell phone video camera verbally threatening to punch a young male passenger who was allegedly annoying the driver. Once the video came to light, it took about two days before it was announced publicly that the driver’s employment had been terminated.

Now, I am a firm believer in zero tolerance and at first glance, I full heartedly agreed with the city decision to terminate the driver. This is where zero tolerance becomes tricky; a subsequent investigation began to reveal circumstances that the public had not been previously privy to:

A) The passenger was reportedly warned by the driver on multiple occasions to behave

B) The passenger was known to the driver

C) The passenger had a history of annoying other passengers and the driver

D) On the day in question, the driver had a received a ticket

E) The driver’s wife had recently left him

F) The driver was the sole caregiver of his disabled father who needed full time care

Once you start looking at the whole picture, a completely different scenario begins to emerge and one starts to sympathize with the driver. Although we begin to see a different picture unfold, the question is; (please pardon the pun) “Does the punishment fit the crime?”

Should the city have taken all the relevant information into account or were they right in terminating the driver? To answer this we have to look at the policy of zero tolerance and what it means. I am of the opinion that zero tolerance is just that, zero tolerance, which at its very nature means yes; the city had no choice other than to terminate the employment of the driver. However that being said, I feel that before an organization canonizes a zero tolerance policy, they have an obligation of insuring that their employees are equipped with the tools to deal with issues they may face in the workplace. If we look at the story at hand, that would mean that the bus driver had been offered and undergone training in the areas of dealing with stress, nonviolent confrontation management, workplace violence and any other relevant training applicable to the driver’s typical working environment. If a company can show that they have done everything in their power to equip their employees for dealing with situations that they are likely to encounter in their work day and have provided all the support needed to accomplish this – having a zero tolerance policy makes more sense.

After all, the cost of terminating, hiring, re-training and re-deployment far out ways the cost of specific training for issues mentioned above. Not to mention the cost savings in terms of liability. And let’s not forget the bad public relations fall out that is likely to ensue.