Years ago, swearing in the workplace was probably an anomaly, but today it’s become almost second nature. In fact, 54 percent of men and 47 percent of women cop to letting expletives fly on the job. This frequency, however, shouldn’t be mistaken as acceptable behavior, and people do find swearing at work offensive — sometimes so much that the bad language creates a hostile work environment. Reporting a boss for cussing is completely within your rights as an employee, but use discretion and keep it professional when handling the problem.
Refer to the employee handbook to get a better understanding of the company’s policy on workplace harassment.
Address the situation directly with your boss. It’s often best to give people — including management — the opportunity to adjust bad behavior. Remain diplomatic and professional throughout the conversation, saying something to the effect that you really enjoy your job but the expletives are somewhat offensive and you were wondering if she could use another way to communicate her frustration.
Document the bad behavior and the occasions of your complaints. This is especially important if the cussing continues after repeated requests to stop. It also gives you perspective on its frequency, and you might find that the use of expletives is rare. Remember, everyone slips up from time to time.
Discuss the problem with your boss’ direct manager if the cussing continues. But frame it in such a way that it doesn’t come off as complaining. For example, saying something like “I just thought I should bring this to your attention to avoid any problems” often sounds better than “so-and-so is swearing and I want it to stop.”
Talk to human resources if the department has a good history of resolving similar situations in the workplace, suggests Alison Green, chief of staff for a midsized nonprofit. And come prepared to the meeting with the written record of occurrences and your subsequent complaints.
- If you don’t feel comfortable talking directly to your boss about her language, write her an email about the problem. This serves two purposes. The first, of course, is to change the bad behavior, and the second is a “paper trail” of your attempts to handle the situation professionally. But be very careful with how you write this correspondence. It's difficult to read tone.
Based in Minneapolis, Minn., Dana Severson has been writing marketing materials for small-to-mid-sized businesses since 2005. Prior to this, Severson worked as a manager of business development for a marketing company, developing targeted marketing campaigns for Big G, Betty Crocker and Pillsbury, among others.