Can you fire someone for swearing at work?

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Can an employee swearing in the workplace count as misconduct? The answer depends on the context – and on the workplace environment HR has created.
 
“The first question is what are the rules of the workplace,” Toronto employment lawyer Stuart Rudner. “If there’s any type of behaviour you want to encourage or discourage put it clearly in a policy. It makes it easier for an employee to know what was expected, and easier for the employer to enforce.”
 
In 2003 the Labour Relations Board upheld a decision to terminate a Walmart Canada employee for  wilful misconduct and wilful disobedience, with the contributing behaviour including swearing at a supervisor and refusing to complete an assigned task.
 
The board found that while some swearing was accepted in the workplace, there was a difference between swearing in frustration or at oneself, and swearing directly at a supervisor.
 
“There was no evidence that swearing of the nature in this case was ever tolerated in the applicant’s workplace,” board vice-chair Susan Serena wrote in the decision. “It is above debate that the responding party’s action constituted misconduct of a serious nature.”
 
Even with a policy in place, it doesn’t mean you can fire someone for a one-off offense, especially if there were mitigating circumstances such as a minor workplace accident. There could also be factors that make it a more serious offense, such as swearing in front of clients, or a teacher swearing in front of children.
 
“Typically a single incident isn’t going to be sufficient,” Rudner said. “It’s more likely that a lesser form of discipline would be appropriate. But if you had someone who was frequently swearing in front of kindergarten children that will be treated very differently to someone swearing in front of colleagues at a warehouse.”
 
As with any disciplinary action, it’s vital to document all incidents and the actions taken to address the behaviour in case of any future challenges to the decisions made.
 
  • ca_exp_work on 2016-01-10 1:58:27 AM

    I was in canada from 2013 to 2014, i was called for a general discussion and foul language was used against me during the discussion. I was rated very least by the same supervisor who used foul language.Not only this, he threatened that I will be terminated if he takes it with HR of the company. He professionally degraded so much that i am not fit to be even a trainee when compared with other trainees/interns.. I had 10+ years of experience. He abused me saying that he will make sure i suffer professionally in the organization.Later for the same year(after I returned to India due to medical), i was given the very least rating for 2014 and when i had a discussion with him and HR regarding my rating, he told everyone during the discussion that I was drunk. two more employees who were in canada working under him, supported this false claim. HR believed it during the discussion in India and justified least rating. I was alone and no one was there to support me during this discussion. I never explored to bring about this treatment of me but now I thought I should.

    I had to go through lot of mental agony. My performance was completely destroyed and there was salary hike for me for next 2 years and also promotion. Still I am being denied promotion due to that rating i got. As far as work was concerned I gave all my support and got this treatment. Manager is still in the company enjoying.

    Now it is 2016, i have been denied promotion, salary hike and also opportunities due to this. Not treated fairly now.

    I had been down with back pain & bedridden for 2-3 weeks during during jan 2014. I used to work in production support all night. Due to this medical reason i requested that i want to travel back.

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