Oh, the profanity

During this litigation-crazy era of employment when companies face lawsuits for sexual harassment, workers compensation and age discrimination, the last thing employers need to worry about is profanity in the workplace.

But in this melting pot of religious, ethnic, moral and racial considerations, what one person might consider assertive or amusing, another may find terribly offensive. So to play it safe, you would do well to spell out what you consider profanity and hat will and will not be tolerated in your company, according to Joseph Vater, a labor and litigation attorney with Meyer, Unkovic and Scott.

According to Webster’s Dictionary, profanity is defined as vulgar or irreverent speech or action. But definitions don’t always mirror real-world experiences, he says. The question, he asks, is, “How far is too far?”

“Profanity is using language that makes people uncomfortable by virtue of the language itself,” says Vater, who has looked closely at the constantly arising issue of profanity in the workplace. “You can’t define it, but you know it when you see it.”

He says he has found that the act of being profane causes a disruptive business environment and, as a result, diminishes employee morale. This all could be alleviated — if not completely eliminated, he suggests, if companies would incorporate in their bylaws a no-tolerance policy on profanity. Most companies, however, don’t tend to take such a step and ultimately leave such judgment up to individual employees.

Where to begin? When considering incorporating a no-tolerance policy on profanity, you should start slow and take “baby steps,” Vater says, to reach your goal. He adds that you shouldn’t expect employees to change overnight in terms of the way in which they speak. Simply begin by prohibiting swearing, for instance, at another employee or supervisor, the atmosphere will begin to change for the better.

Says Vater:”The worst thing to do is develop a policy that fires the workplace.”

Sadie Skupien