Oscar Wilde once opined “The expletive is the refuge of the semi-literate,” and what a refuge it is.  Swearing is so pervasive in the Australian lexicon that hardly an eyebrow is raised when an expletive is dropped during prime-time TV so is it of little wonder that it should be prevalent in the workplace?

This begs the question is swearing a sackable offense? Alas,  a string of cases would indicate that depending on circumstances it is.

Mr Roderick Macdougall v SCT Pty Limited T/A Sydney City Toyota [2013] FWC 1077 :  Telling a client ‘you wasted my f**king time’ is a sackable offense as it represents an ‘imminent risk to the profitability and reputation of the business’.

Webster v Mercury Colleges Pty Limited [2011] FWA 4772:  Australians swear and swear a lot.  Giving your NES speaking students a work-sheet whereby it  “contained usage in every sentence, of the word f**k and requested students discuss its different meanings and whether it was being used as a verb or a noun etc” is bound to ruffle feathers.  The worksheet is a sackable offense.  Not giving your employee time to respond is unfair dismissal.

Symes v Linfox Armaguard Pty Ltd [2012] FWA 4789: Telling your boss to ‘get f**ked’.  Most people imagine telling their manager where to go and if you do work up the nerve make sure there are no witnesses.(You don’t want to undermine your employer’s authority.)  While finding swearing at a person was “of a different character” to swearing at  an object, or as an adjective, FWA Commissioner Helen Cargill said it was “also  relevant to consider the evidence that the respondent’s workplace is one in  which bad language is commonly used and in which … employees may have received  mixed messages about such use”.  So if swearing in your workplace is common, you may just get away with it.

What does this all mean?  Context is everything.  Have the proper procedures in place and be consistent.  But above all, don’t swear as nobody wants to be considered to be a semi-literate buffoon.

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