You manage to give yourself a wicked paper cut at work and blurt out a word that would make even a sailor blush. Quickly, you look around to see if anyone heard you. If your exclamation went undetected, you're in luck, but even if your boss heard you, you'd unlikely be terminated. Although varying degrees of profanity are common in many workplaces, it can be a cause for termination in certain situations.
To brush up on your employer's policy on profanity in the workplace, consult your employee handbook or speak with someone in the human resources department. Many employers frown on profanity, but also acknowledge that it's as common as employees helping themselves to the office supply cabinet. A CareerBuilder.com survey found that 62 percent of employees in Washington, D.C., swear on the job, but this statistic doesn't mean all of these workers will receive pink slips.
Just as there are varying degrees of inappropriate behavior in the workplace, not all swear words are created alike. Muttering a curse word under your breath because you lost an account isn't the same as standing up at a shareholders' meeting and yelling profanities at everyone. Given the prevalence of swearing in the workplace, colleagues and supervisors will often overlook its mild forms, but address more egregious forms of profanity accordingly.
Workplaces use varying degrees of discipline to address different forms of profanity. HR Hero reports that four types of discipline are common -- a verbal warning, a written warning, suspension from work and termination. Minor uses of profanity at work often receive verbal or written warnings, while a loud, profanity-laced tirade directed at your supervisor might result in suspension or termination.
Grounds for Termination
Law firm Meyer Vandenberg reports that profanity indeed can be grounds for termination, but that it's important to consider the context of the profanity and the culture of the workplace. For example, swearing because you stubbed your toe is significantly different from loud, aggressive swearing at a colleague. The law firm suggests that in most instances, isolated incidences of swearing are not typically grounds for termination. An employee who repeatedly uses profanity and ignores warnings to stop is more likely be fired.
Toronto-based journalist William McCoy has been writing since 1997, specializing in topics such as sports, nutrition and health. He serves as the Studio's sports and recreation section expert. McCoy is a journalism graduate of Ryerson University.