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Section 5 - Zero tolerance

There are situations which it is not possible or appropriate to tolerate in a work setting. It is important to be able to identify these. These can occur both at the start of contact and when contact with someone has been going well for some time.


The dangerous situation

If you feel you, or others, are at immediate risk, you need to take quick and decisive action.

There are skills which can help you de-escalate situations and may be helpful in emergencies when you feel someone's behaviour is becoming dangerous to you or others. One example is the three D's which encourage you to Divert, Deflect, Distract.

This may allow you time and space to move to safety, to get help, or to help the person themselves calm down. If you do have to do this, the incident should always be logged in case this is a pattern of behaviour you need to deal with. You should always de-brief with a manager or appropriate senior colleague after any significant incident.

Identifying situations you should never tolerate

There is a wide range of types of language and actions which you need to consider when deciding whether a person’s engagement has fallen into the ‘zero tolerance’ category.

Physical violence is the most obvious example and will always fall under this category. But threats of violence are also unacceptable. Threats to others remain unacceptable, even if it is not aimed at your organisation.

For staff it is important that they know and understand that if they feel threatened, and at risk, they do not need to maintain the contact simply because a specific direct threat has not been made.

Abusive or degrading language is also unacceptable and is the most common type of unacceptable engagement that staff experience. It is important that all organisations are consistent about the lines they draw and why. We set out specifically in our policy what we mean by abuse or degrading language. Our phrase cards give some advice on boundary setting.

Consistency is important and each organisation should ensure:

  • They can clearly explain, and staff understand, what their boundaries are.
  • Staff are given support and training to put those in place safely and consistently.

After the contact

Whenever you have needed to use a zero tolerance approach this should be appropriately recorded. Your organisation may have its own rules but as a minimum you need to:

  • clearly identify what happened and write a note of the contact on the appropriate record-keeping system
  • if there are witnesses you may need to note their details
  • discuss with a manager how you handled the situation and if there are any additional steps you need to take

Additional steps you and your manager should consider are below.

Who needs to know what happened?

Apart from situations of physical violence, when the police should always be called, you may need to consider whether the police should be informed. Do you need to tell any other person who may be at risk if threats were made? The standard answers to both of these questions should be yes. However, you may decide that there are particular circumstances which mean that is not appropriate. If you do so, the reasons for that decision not to follow the standard response need to be noted and recorded.

You should also consider how other colleagues in your organisation will know about what happened. Do you have an alert system for other walk-in offices? Can you record this contact centrally (so if the person repeats the contact your colleagues are aware of any previous problems)? It can be helpful to think through scenarios in your organisation. How quickly would you would be able to spot someone who was repeatedly calling different numbers and being abusive or threatening? How would you move to stop this quickly to prevent staff being abused?

Following up with a formal written warning

You should consider if a written warning should be sent to the individual about their engagement. We would always recommend that this is sent from a senior member in the organisation. You do have discretion to decide if this would not be appropriate for the particular individual or situation. If you do send a written warning, this should follow the process set out for restricting contact in section 3.

Ensure staff are supported

It is important to ensure a proper debriefing occurs. Ask if there is anything you can do to support staff. In the short term, staff may need to take a break from dealing with the public to recover. In a serious incident, you should also talk to staff after a period of time has passed, say a week or so, to make sure they feel it was dealt with appropriately by the organisation and that their confidence has recovered.

<< Section 4 - Persistence 

Updated: November 17, 2021