Opinion

Zero tolerance hiring rules make zero sense

Noel S. Williams of Lakewood has a master’s degree in human resources but has recently worked as an IT specialist, including 10 years for a state agency.
Noel S. Williams of Lakewood has a master’s degree in human resources but has recently worked as an IT specialist, including 10 years for a state agency.

Zero tolerance policies in the workplace are problematic. Their imposition upon job applicants is imperious when the offense is no longer on official records, or there is no correlation with the job’s requirements.

The “one size fits all” paradigm appeals to disengaged managers who prefer a simplistic script from the human resources department rather than consider the complexities of the violation.

A stark example of this shortsightedness is the Washington State Patrol civil service (not troopers) hiring standards that automatically disqualify a candidate for even one misdemeanor conviction involving DUI — no matter if it was 30 years ago.

Even applicants for backroom staff positions who had infractions long ago are persona non grata.

DUI is a scourge upon driving safety and should be dealt with as severely as the encompassing jurisdiction allows.

However, if a misdemeanor is no longer on the offender’s otherwise untainted criminal or driving records, it should not be automatically disqualifying.

Zero tolerance is unwise because it undermines reasoned judgment in complex personnel issues. A more nuanced approach that examines exigencies and recidivism and respects people who have tamed their inner demons can protect the integrity and reputation of the hiring organization.

Will Rogers once said: “Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.”

Whose judgment do you trust more, someone who had a moral failing but learned from their mistakes, or someone who appears squeaky clean?

The former may have cultivated more depth of character as evidenced by subsequent decades of propriety and sobriety. Conversely, the goody two-shoes may not yet have been tested in the crucible of life.

Maybe they’re not virtuous, just lucky; studies show that, on average, a drunk driver will drive 80 times under the influence before the first arrest.

Zero-tolerance policies might make for a good press release; they might even offer some modest moral comfort. But they’re also devoid of nuance.

Their inflexibility impairs impartial judgment, a crucial attribute of our essential humanity, without which draconian HR rules will eliminate those who have experienced life fully. The person who has clearly turned over a new leaf deserves a second chance to pursue a career.

Speaking of which, the WSP offers this justification for barring civil service applicants with an ancient misdemeanor DUI infraction:

“Any conduct deemed to impede the ability of the WSP to effectively fulfill its responsibilities; causes a lessening of public confidence in the ability of the WSP to perform its mission; or does not equate with the high ethical standards expected by the public of law enforcement agencies, will result in disqualification.”

There aren’t many things more detrimental than the rigid hiring standards for non-troopers (Troopers we also expect to be perfect, I guess), which eliminate applicants whose reformed ways would likely engender public respect.

Hiring standards used by organizations such as the WSP are cloaked in intolerant extremism.

Isn’t there enough of that going around already?

Noel S. Williams, formerly of England, is a 20-year resident of Lakewood, a U.S. Navy veteran and an information technology specialist.

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