HR Tip: Bad language in the workplace

6th Oct 2004

These questions are being answered by Learn HR, a market leader in the provision of HR and payroll training and nationally-recognised professional qualifications.

Q: One of our employees uses bad language fairly regularly. He doesn’t do it to abuse people so it is not harassment, but nevertheless some employees have complained. We have spoken to the man about it but he says first of all that it is just his way of speaking and he cannot change, and second that it is no worse than what you can hear on television. So what is “bad language” and can we do anything to restrain him?

A: I cannot give you a universally held definition of bad language but I would describe it as language that does, or is likely to, offend several people in a group. Since it clearly does offend some of your employees I would call it harassment and you really should put a stop to it.

I agree that one can hear offensive language on television but you can switch the television off if you hear offensive language whereas your employees do not have that facility at work. Also as the employer you are entitled to set a standard of acceptable language for your own workplace.

Make it clear to this person that inappropriate language is unacceptable and that things must change. Highlight the fact that the use of bad language is a behavioural and not a personality trait. Offer a little tolerance and time to the person to allow them to change their behaviour but, if he fails to do so, invoke your disciplinary procedure. People should not have to work in an offensive environment.

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By ianred
10th Oct 2004 11:41

Tourette syndrome is a recognised 'illness' where sufferers are prone to swearing and cannot control their actions. Before adopting any disciplinary action in this case, it would be sensible and prudent to ensure that the offender is not suffering from this medical condition.

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