Admit it, swearing in the workplace is something many of us have probably been guilty of at some point.
Work can be stressful, and it’s not too surprising that sometimes workers (and managers) will fall into the habit of letting out the occasional swear word.
While this kind of behaviour can be offensive to some (or lead to someone getting the sack), recent research suggests that over the past year, there has been a significant increase in swearing at work – including amongst managers.
However, in the wrong context, swearing at work can lead to disciplinary action or dismissal.
In addition to the danger of losing your job because of a foul mouth, there are other reasons to avoid swearing at work.
Past research has found that most employers said they would be less likely to promote an employee who swears at work. This is due to perceptions that those who swear are less professional, lack maturity and seem less intelligent compared to those who don’t.
Nevertheless, a quarter of employers still admit to having sworn at their workers at some point.
While attitudes towards swearing can and does differ between individuals and workplaces, understanding when swearing on the job is acceptable and when it is grounds for disciplinary action or dismissal is very important.
Can you be fired for swearing at work?
Well, the short answer is yes – under the right (or wrong) circumstances.
As numerous Fair Work Commission cases demonstrate, many employees have been dismissed for swearing at work – e.g. swearing at customers, colleagues and/or their managers.
Some businesses will directly address the issue of swearing in workplace policies or codes of conduct, outlining certain behaviours (including swearing) in the workplace will not be tolerated.
Other businesses may not directly prohibit swearing, although it can still land employees in hot water under certain circumstances.
So, when is swearing at work a problem?
Context is important
While any type of swearing at work might land you in hot water, context can often be a deciding factor in whether it is inappropriate behaviour or warrants dismissal.
Different attitudes towards swearing in different settings can be a key consideration here – e.g. while swearing might be considered highly offensive and inappropriate in some workplaces, it can also be viewed as acceptable (or even encouraged) in others.
Considerations that contribute to whether swearing could be a major problem include where it is:
- part of aggressive or intimidating behaviour and/or is directed at a specific individual and/or
- generally permitted (or not) by an employer in that workplace.
The Fair Work Commission (FWC) rulings on unfair dismissal claims highlight the importance of context. For example, the FWC has upheld dismissals when the employee in question has sworn aggressively or threateningly at managers or colleagues. Dismissals have also been upheld when an employee has sworn at customers because is seen as conduct threatening “the profitability and reputation of the business.”
Conversely, in other situations, the FWC has upheld unfair / unjust dismissal claims lodged by an employee. For instance, one case saw the FWC rule in favour of a dismissed employee who was sacked for swearing during a conversation with his manager. This was due to the employee’s swearing being “in frustration and not directed aggressively or as a threat” towards the manager.
In short, if an employee swears in frustration and this is not directed at someone specific, there may not be grounds for intervention or disciplinary action. Where swearing is not seen as grounds for dismissal is dependent on what workplace policies are in place and how strictly they are enforced.
Whenever swearing occurs in a threatening or aggressive way or could have a negative impact on the profitability and/or reputation of the business is when it can cause major problems for the employee in question.
Akyra’s key takeaways
Swearing in the workplace is something that has become increasingly common in recent years. While it can be easy to fall into this kind of behaviour, particularly during stressful periods, it’s important to understand when swearing at work can be a problem.
For employers, you should:
- have clear workplace policies provides clarity for your workforce which can then support your defence should an employee lodge an unfair dismissal claim in this circumstance;
- be clear in what kind of behaviour is acceptable and what isn’t;
- consistently apply any policies on swearing in the workplace as selectively dismissing workers for this kind of behaviour might result in an unfair dismissal claim being successful.
For employees, moderating behaviour is probably the best approach. While we all encounter stressful times in the workplace, don’t let a foul mouth put your job at risk.
NEED MORE INFORMATION?
Akyra can help your business to assist and support all your questions and concerns related t the impacts of swearing in the workplace. Please contact Akyra on 07 3204 8830 or book a free 30-minute consultation for an obligation-free conversation.
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The material distributed is general information only. The information supplied is not intended to be legal or other professional advice, nor should it be relied upon as such. You should seek legal or professional advice in relation to your specific situation.
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