Swearing in the workplace?

Posted by Luke Mitchell on 25 August 2015

Whilst no specific law exists against swearing in the workplace, what are the implications of using bad language at work? 

HowStuffWorks.com tells us that swearing is used in social interactions to:

  • Establish a group identity
  • Establish membership in a group and maintain the group's boundaries
  • Express solidarity with other people
  • Express trust and intimacy (mostly when women swear in the presence of other women)
  • Add humour, emphasis or "shock value"
  • Attempt to camouflage a person's fear or insecurity

However, swearing can also be intimidating and can be perceived as harassment if directed at one particular person or group. Swearing can lead to a work environment being viewed as hostile. Harassment, racism, sexism or other discriminating behaviour is often associated with the use of bad language.

Swearing in the workplace can often lead to further forms of aggressive behaviour in the workplace. Often staff members swearing at one another can escalate an altercation to a level which leads to shouting, intimidation or threatening behaviours. Research shows that swearing increases blood pressure and anger levels the longer the cursing goes on.

Whilst swearing should be considered within the context of the broader workplace, the actual words used, and how it is said, it is not unreasonable to request offending employees to stop. Employers can set boundaries in their company policies which outline expectations of around staff conduct. Management modelling good behaviour is a good start to setting the standard for employees.

Further, with the introduction of far reaching anti bullying laws, employers need to have a clear position on what they believe is acceptable conduct in the workplace. Employers can then put themselves into a strong position to be able to take action against employees who breach the expected standards of behaviour. To do this a clear and concise workplace behaviour policy is required, which is supported by proper induction and regular training. Further, conduct that falls below the standard expected cannot be left unaddressed as it can undo the workplace culture that an employer is attempting to establish and weaken the legal position of the employer to act on the matters at a later point in time.

If you need assistance with difficult behaviours in the workplace contact our experienced and understanding employment law team to help you work through the problems.