Is swearing at work ok? HR News November 7 2017

In an interesting case this week a Fair Work commissioner has ruled that in certain workplaces swearing is part of the normal interaction and that dismissing an employee for using foul language was unfair.

Peter Wilson, National President of the Australian human Resources Institute and Chair of CPA Australia disagrees. As does the Broadspring Consulting team. A union delegate described workmates using the f bomb and the c bomb. Discussion has been sparked by how language is changing and whether it is as common as it used to be for bad language to be used at work. The general sense is that bad language is less often used at work than it used to be.

It’s in the news and was on the radio but what employers need to know is:

  • it’s not enough to assume standards of behaviour. if you are going to reward or penalise employees for meeting or failing standards then those standards must be documented and stated very clearly
  • decisions made by Fair Work will take into account “typical” businesses and industry similarities when making decisions

What lessons can be learned?

  1. Document your workplace standards. This is often done in a Code of Conduct or similar document
  2. Make sure that workplace standards are clearly communicated and that there is consistency in how those standards are applied and monitored at work
  3. Ensure that policies around handling complaints and disciplinary action include definitions and examples of what is unacceptable. This can include swearing, shouting, physical abuse and threats.

The standards of behaviour at your workplace are associated with the culture and will be an important factor in attracting and retaining employees.  It cannot be left assumed or unmanaged. In fact many allegations of bullying and harassment include allegations about the language that was used.

If you feel your policies need to be reviewed, Braodspring Consulting can complete an audit and health check of your policies and give you peace of mind or an action list.