Swearing in the Workplace

Whether swearing is acceptable in the workplace will depend on the context and the employer’s expectations of their employees. In some work settings, swearing can be a common and culturally acceptable part of everyday communication between colleagues. But in other workplaces, swearing can be considered unprofessional, offensive, and grounds for disciplinary action.

Employers should take the initiative to make it clear to their employees which expressions are acceptable and which are not.

Setting standards

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Swearing in the workplace should be considered as part of the organization’s disciplinary policy or employee code of conduct. It should state the employer’s position on the use of offensive and inappropriate language, and provide examples of what would be considered misconduct and subject to disciplinary action for clarity. The policy should also communicate possible sanctions for non-compliance.

It is important that employees are made aware of the expected standards through training, for example through the onboarding process or through equity and diversity training.

An organization’s position on swearing must be constantly upheld if it is to be effective and reduce the risk of complaints. This means that all managers and leaders understand the policies and procedures for dealing with Swearing at work and offensive language, and the importance of their own actions and behavior in setting standards for their teams.

If the boss swears at the employee

Managers or employers should not abuse their position by using profanity in violation of the required standards in accordance with the organization’s policy of conduct, and should also refrain from using profanity under pressure or in stressful situations. Managers who are frustrated with employees and their work need to be trained and able to deal with such circumstances; take the time to calm down before speaking to an employee, comply with the relevant policies and procedures of the organization, and meet the expected level of respect and professionalism.

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Managers should not use foul language to intimidate or humiliate junior employees or teammates. The use of offensive language can lead to complaints against the manager, and if the language used is so offensive and serious that the employee quits their job, they can sue in labor court for constructive dismissal. The use of foul language in this way may also justify disciplinary action against the manager who used such language.

If an employee swears at the manager

If an employee uses abusive or abusive language towards a manager or any employee, the facts of the incident must always be considered before any decision is made to take disciplinary action. For example, in one tribunal case, when an employee used offensive language towards a colleague during a sudden outburst of anger and while intoxicated, it was considered unfair to dismiss the employee without first giving him the opportunity to apologize.

If an employee refused to follow the instructions of his supervisor when he used obscene language, this could be regarded as a violation of subordination, which could constitute a gross misconduct and lead to disciplinary dismissal.

Disciplinary action for swearing

Fair procedure must be followed before any disciplinary action is taken. This means establishing the facts of the incident and considering the use of language in the context of the circumstances and the policy of the organization. Dismissal should be considered as a last resort and can only be justified if the employee’s behavior was so serious as to constitute gross misconduct and disciplinary dismissal, or a more lenient punishment such as a verbal or written warning.

The organization’s policy of conduct should provide guidance on what punitive actions are available and appropriate to ensure consistency and compliance with your legal obligations. For example, if it was a one-time incident, can the matter be resolved informally after the parties have cooled down, but when the swearing is related to repeated infringement, perceived discrimination or intimidation, or when the employer’s reputation is at risk due to a complaint from customers, this may result in more severe penalties.

In severe cases, you should see if there are any mitigating factors. If a long-serving employee with a clear track record is accused of gross misconduct due to a profanity incident, you need to understand why they acted seemingly out of character. Were they provoked or acted under extreme and exceptional pressure?

Discrimination or offensive language

Even if an organization prefers a milder approach to swearing at work, employers should be aware of their responsibility to take action to prevent bullying, harassment, discrimination and victimization in the workplace.

The law protects workers from discrimination, harassment, bullying, and victimization based on protected characteristics, including age, gender, race, and motherhood. If someone is subjected to profanity or obscene language because of a protected characteristic that they believe is inappropriate, derogatory, or offensive, this may be considered unlawful discrimination, even if the swearing person calls it “banter”.

Employers may be held legally responsible for the actions of their workforce during work in accordance with vicarious liability rules. An employer cannot be held liable if the Labor Tribunal determines that it has taken all reasonable steps to try to prevent employee harassment, discrimination and victimization. This means that it is in the employer’s interest to ensure that employees are aware of and trained in the organization’s policies and standards of conduct, and that any complaints are dealt with promptly to reduce the risk of costly discrimination claims.

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