No longer a case of curse and be damned at work

WHEN security guard Craig Symes told his manager to ''get f---ed'' his employers felt they had strong grounds to sack him.

But the company, Linfox Armaguard, instead found its policies on swearing at work come under scrutiny.

In one of several cases of workers challenging their dismissal over the use of four-letter words, Mr Symes was reinstated last month because Fair Work Australia found bad language was commonly used in the security guard's Brisbane workplace.

The assistant secretary for the Queensland Branch of the Trade Workers' Union, Scott Connolly, said Mr Symes felt his employer had shown a double-standard for the language use of employers and employees by targeting him.

''He felt uncomfortable and that there was a level of, from his perspective, victimisation in how he was treated in the workplace,'' Mr Connolly said.

A Melbourne lawyer, Mary-Jane Ierodiaconou, said employers needed to prove that their policies did not tolerate swearing in the workplace and educate their staff about this.

''If someone says, 'eff off,' and a manager says, 'Do not say that again. I consider that to be serious misconduct and you might be dismissed if you say it again,' and the person says it again, then that's a breach of a reasonable and lawful direction and that's when it's a potentially sackable offence,'' she said.

In some cases, however, unionists say swearing can be merely an excuse to sack workers. The Mackay depot of the freight company Toll NQX introduced a three-strike swearing policy, in which workers receive a written warning for each occasion they swear in the workplace, but after three warnings they will be fired.

Tom Pfund, the North Queensland TWU organiser, said the measures were ''ludicrous'' and should apply to management, too. ''To have that sort of policy, that's just a bullying and intimidation tactic that's completely unnecessary,'' Mr Pfund said. ''It's not right across the board.''

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While Mr Connolly said he did not think it was possible to eliminate swearing from all workplaces, he said employers needed to be consistent in their approach to it.

''It'd be fantastic if they aspired to a workplace and a culture where they didn't accept this sort of language from anybody,'' he said.

Similar cases have occurred in NSW, with a railworker losing his job in 2008 at Rail Infrastructure Corporation after a series of swearing incidents in the last 15 months of his 33-year employment.

After an investigation, FWA found that the RIC had not appropriately managed the conflicting personalities of the man and his new manager, while also failing to take into account the effect that a change of medication had had on his moods. It consequently ruled that his job be reinstated.

Ultimately, Mr Connolly said it was a matter of employers being clear and consistent with their employees as to what language was and was not acceptable in the workplace. ''Everyone has the right to be treated with respect and dignity, be they employer or employee,'' he said. ''The employer must accept that ultimately it's their responsibility to set the environment of the workplace.''