Swearing in the workplace has lost its shock value!

In a recent employment tribunal, a judge ruled that bad language, including the F word is so commonplace that it lacks significance and shouldn’t offend colleagues. The comment related to an employee who complained about her boss’s conduct during a meeting.

The employee, who is claiming unfair dismissal and discrimination, alleged that the manager belittled and undermined her during the meeting, and went on to say “I don’t give a f***” during discussions about a potential deal.

Although the manager denied making the comment, the judge declared that even if he had, it would not be considered rude or offensive. “The words allegedly used in our view are fairly commonplace and do not carry the shock value they might have done in another time,” said the judge.  The judge also ruled that the comment “was not intended to be offensive” towards the claimant.

It start contrast, another case where an employee took legal action against his employer, claiming that the conduct of the CEO, and in particular his abusive and foul language, constituted a breach of the implied duty of trust and confidence. The employer argued that this type of language was ordinary in the workplace and was mainly due to being frustrated at the employee’s performance issues. The employee’s claim was upheld, and he was awarded £900,000 in damages.

If an employee swears at their manager, or if during a heated exchange, a manager uses expletives towards their employee, then these are the types of cases which an employer could not disregard. It’s important to note that if the nature of the language is so serious that it justifies an employee resigning from their role, they could submit a claim at an Employment Tribunal for constructive dismissal.

In both your bullying and harassment policy and disciplinary policy, you should provide clear examples of acts which will be considered gross misconduct. Generally, employers will include the use of excessive bad language on the company, prospects or client’s premises as an example of gross misconduct. Employers should make it clear that the use of language which has the aim or effect of violating a person’s dignity or creates a hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual will not be tolerated.

For further guidance on this subject, contact us on 0800 9995 121.

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