While it may be argued that swearing has become more acceptable in general use, swearing in the workplace may not be.
It is important to note that swearing at work may constitute bullying, harassment or discrimination depending on the circumstances.
What do employers need to consider when deciding if they should or are able to take disciplinary action regarding this are:
The Fair Work Commission has in the past found that an employer was justified in dismissing a worker who swore at his supervisor on the basis that he had been previously warned in writing not to use inappropriate language at work. But the Commission went on to say it would not have found in favour of the employer if there had been evidence other employees had acted in a similar manner with less or no disciplinary action.
In another case, the Commission found in favour of an employee who was sacked for sending an abusive text message to a colleague during protected industrial action and ordered reinstatement. The Commission found that while there was a valid reason to terminate the employee, it was disproportionate insofar as it was inconsistent with the approach taken in other similar incidents. Evidence before the Commission suggested there was a culture of workplace swearing, and that previous instances had not been dealt with by dismissal.
This is general information only and does not constitute legal or any other form of advice. If you would like assistance with a workplace matter such as this, or if you require the services of an independent investigator, contact Phil O’Toole or Phil O’Brien at Centium. Centium has conducted many workplace and employment related investigations and can share lessons learnt and good practices observed across industry.
The author of this blog is Phil O’Brien, Head of Investigations at Centium. He is a highly experienced and skilled workplace investigator and trainer who can take the stress out of conducting workplace investigations into bullying, harassment, sexual harassment, discrimination and other forms of misconduct.