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Swearing in the workplace – Perhaps the kiss of death

Swearing in the workplace – Perhaps the kiss of death (Last Updated On: November 21, 2016)

There is no doubt that ‘traditional’ workplaces have changed over time. What used to be seen as appropriate code of conduct in 1915 is certainly different to what is relevant in today’s modern workplace, and this raises a very valid question – what constitutes acceptable behaviour?

Previously, swearing at a manager may have warranted instant dismissal, today employers must be very careful in the way they manage what they deem to be inappropriate.

Earlier this year, the Fair Work Commission (FWC) heard the case of Smith vs Aussie Waste Management, where Smith, a garage truck driver, swore at his manager saying “you dribble sh!t, you always dribble f#@!ing sh#t”. The employer immediately dismissed Smith however, the matter was overturned by the FWC.

Deputy President Wells was presiding over the matter and found that “while this type of conduct shouldn’t be tolerated, it was not sufficiently insubordinate to justify dismissal”. DP Wells went on to identify some areas of consideration for such cases, which included what was common practice in this particular workplace, was the conversation overheard by other employees or customers, and whether there was direct intention to “undermine his managers authority”.

The biggest takeaway for all employers from this case is that what you deem unacceptable in your workplace may vary person to person and industry to industry, and therefore you must clearly state these guidelines to all employees.

In 2014, the FWC heard the case of a wharf worker who “repeatedly engaged in unjustified swearing, which was described as contemptuous and aggressive”. The FWC reviewed the fact that swearing was a part of everyday vocabulary in this industry however, the employer had recently introduced a new code of conduct policy in an attempt to improve workplace culture. Taking this into consideration the FWC decided “dismissal was the appropriate penalty”.

Examples like this can be all too familiar in many places of work, so how do you determine what is deem appropriate or not, and how, if you feel someone is acting inappropriately, do you manage this?

First and foremost, ensure your workplace code of conduct is clearly outlined, focusing on employee conduct, ensuring all employees read and sign such documents.

If you find yourself in a situation where an employee is stepping outside of your defined code of conduct, you are well within your rights to conduct a disciplinary meeting to clearly outline the employee’s unacceptable behaviour. In conjunction with the disciplinary meeting, a formal, written warning should be issued. Any repeated misconduct can therefore be identified as serious misconduct and may justify dismissal.

If you are an employer and you are unsure of the steps to take in a disciplinary process, or if you are unsure if you have the correct policies and procedures in place, contact Employsure today on 1300 651 415.

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