Worker fired over coffee mug highlights zero-tolerance policy problems

Worker fired over coffee mug highlights zero-tolerance policy problems

The line between acting firm and being overly stringent is one that leaders must walk every day. Attempting to appear strong without acting like a dictator sits within the purview of zero-tolerance policies.

Factory worker Craig Reed was recently fired from his role after a prank intended for one person inadvertently offended a co-worker.

The Sun reports that Reed was fired for bringing in a coffee mug with the words ‘lanky b***h’ emblazoned on it – intended to poke fun at a colleague’s tall ex-girlfriend. However, a tall female colleague spotted the cup and told bosses that she felt it was an “offensive misogynist message directed” at her. 95% of the staff are male at the firm in question. 

Reed apologised. However, he was let go.

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Following this, an Employment Tribunal found that his dismissal was fair. Judge Jennifer Wade said: “It is clear to me that some employers would have taken a different approach.

“Some employers would have listened to those very remorseful statements and concluded that he would never do such a thing again.

“He was the subject of a zero-tolerance approach in circumstances where he would never have wished to be.”

The judge ruled that the company “acted reasonably in treating his conduct in bringing to work the offensive mug as sufficient reason for his dismissal”.

And whilst zero-tolerance policies are normally a beneficial and necessary procedure, HR should remember to exercise caution.

Speaking to, David Ulrich, Business Professor at the University of Michigan, explained the policies: “It’s one thing to state that the organisation will not tolerate any form of undesirable or illegal activity, but it’s impossible to apply a standard punishment or solution for every incident.

“A policy needs teeth, but it also needs to be fair.”

What are your thoughts on zero-tolerance policies? Tell us in the comments. 

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Comments (1)

  • Sir
    Mon, 22 May 2017 1:46pm BST
    Generation Snowflake strikes again !
    Tell me, did the "tall female colleague" make a habit of believing that everything was about her ?
    Maybe we should all drink our hot beverages from plain white mugs in future - er, sorry, I mean, maybe plain black mugs. Crumbs, it's getting worse - maybe we should not drink hot beverages at work at all !!

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