Swearing in the Workplace
Australians have grown accustomed to a workplace environment that can often be more relaxed and laid back than that of our international peers. We often consider our co-workers our mates, invite their families over for a Saturday BBQ and go on camping trips together. The days of micromanaging employees in Australia are long gone, and employees are expected to work hard, and in return, there’s often some freedom given in the context of the workplace environment. It’s not uncommon to walk into a workplace lunchroom and hear the Australian employee casually dropping a ‘….. it’s hot today’ to their co-worker over a smashed avo sandwich. As swearing in the workplace can be commonplace within many industries across Australia, differentiating between when swearing on the job is acceptable and when it is grounds for dismissal is an important distinction.
At Bramwell Partners, we specialise in HR Consulting Services and can help your business develop a company manual that incorporates a swearing policy. Get in touch with us today for all your HR consulting needs.
Is Swearing at work Grounds for Dismissal
While it may not always seem appropriate, as an employer it’s vital to know when you should intervene or if your workplace has a culture of swearing. Rulings from the Fair Work Commission (FWC) have time and time again found that the act of swearing on its own is not a valid reason for dismissal based on conduct. The FWC will take into account a range of factors when determining if the dismissal was valid including, the nature of the workplace environment, whether a culture of swearing is present, if the language was used in a targeted, threatening or aggressive nature, and the context of the swearing.
The environment in which the swearing occurs is an important consideration in whether it is inappropriate or not. Some industries are prone to stressful situations such as mining sites, Fly-In-Fly-Out worksites, and even an office building in the middle of the CBD. Stressful situations coupled with Australia’s laid-back attitude often give rise to a profanity slip here or there, in many cases, these are overlooked and can even be accepted as the norm. However, locations such as child-care facilities and client-facing businesses will often have much stricter rules when it comes to swearing at work. If swearing on the job can damage a business’s brand or influence those around you such as young children, then it will often be deemed to be a much greater offense and potential grounds for dismissal.
The workplace culture is the environment of your workplace as it goes about its day to day activities; – What is generally accepted as the norm and what would be considered out of the ordinary. The Fair Work Commission will consider:
- Is there a company manual that incorporates a swearing policy?
- Is the company manual being enforced?
- Is it being enforced equally across levels of management?
- Does the leadership team lead by example?
- Have there been past instances of misconduct regarding swearing?
- How has swearing been addressed in the past? Has it been condoned?
Targeted, Threatening and Aggressive by Nature
Swearing that is targeted at an individual or individuals, and is part of a verbal or physical attack on another member of staff; Swearing at work that can be deemed threatening by those around you whether targeted or not, and swearing that is aggressive or obscene by nature such as ‘c….’ is often taken as serious cases by the FWC. However, this does not mean that these situations automatically allow for immediate dismissal. The FWC will still take into account all other factors when determining if a dismissal was justified, as in many cases, lighter disciplinary action could have been more appropriate.
The Swearing Context
Recent rulings by the FWC have found that swearing between employee and manager when occurring in a private situation such as a phone call, generally do not justify grounds for dismissal. However, if swearing in the workplace could undermine the authority of a manager or another employee, then the swearing may have gone too far. Swearing that is used as an adjective, an exclamation, or in the instance of accidental injury will often be considered acceptable behaviour given other factors.
Considerations for Employers
It might be easy to jump to the conclusion that every instance of profanity in your workplace needs to be policed. But research shows that this can have a negative impact on how committed your employees are to working towards your organisational vision. Australians work best when they are given the freedom to get the job done, and constant policing can actually demotivate some employees. So, when should you as an employer intervene in cases of swearing in the workplace?
Breach of a Swearing Policy or the Code of Conduct – If your business has a company manual with a swearing policy that is being used as the benchmark for organisational behaviour; You should act upon employees who swear at work. It’s important that managers and employees alike follow the rules set forth in the company manual to ensure fairness within the organisation.
If the Swearing is one of the Grounds for Dismissal – You should also take action in instances of swearing when taking into account the nature of the workplace environment, whether a culture of swearing is present, if the language was used in a targeted, threatening or aggressive nature, and the context of the swearing.
Steps to Take for Disciplinary Action
Unless there are significant contributing factors for swearing at work, immediate dismissal will often be seen as unjust by the FWC. Depending on the severity of the case it is always best to work through the situation between employee and employer, and if necessary a neutral third party which can be in-house or an HR Consultant. By talking through the situation with the employee, you may find they might of just been having a bad day and are actually more apologetic than you realise. In more serious situations, formal company procedures should be followed, which can include a written apology, mediation with a third party, and recommendations for improvement. In cases where immediate dismissal is necessary, making sure your business has done its due diligence regarding compliance is an important step in ensuring the dismissal was justly made.
Developing a Company Manual with a Swearing Policy
A swearing policy is a code of conduct that is part of a company manual. It is used as a central guide by both employees and employers in how they should conduct themselves in a business’ workplace environment. Its purpose is to set a standard that can be used as a reference tool within an organisation and set forth the procedures that will be taken if disciplinary action needs to be taken. Some points you should consider when developing a company manual are:
- The current and future culture that you want to cultivate in your workplace.
- The audience in the workplace including team members, guests, clients, and other stakeholders.
- What kind of profanity will you specifically limit? Or will you have a blanket no-swearing policy?
- The potential damage that swearing at work can have on your brand.
- The effects that limiting or banning swearing completely can have on employees in some industries especially those in highly stressful environments.
Swearing on the job can be commonplace in an Australian workspace. Employers need to ensure they remain diligent when it comes to dismissing an employee for swearing in the workplace. At Bramwell Partners, we have been working with Australian-based businesses to navigate when swearing merits a dismissal or when softer disciplinary measures should be taken. Don’t leave yourself open to an unfair dismissal claim, get in touch with one of our dedicated HR consultants today who can help your business develop a company policy that fits the needs of your organisation.