Got a Mouth Like Mooch? Why Swearing at Work Could Get You Fired

The use of profanity in the workplace to let off steam or tell a joke is still frowned upon and could offend co-workers or existing and potential clients.

While some industries tolerate the use of obscenities and vulgar language, limiting your salty tongue is recommended even at happy hours or other informal gatherings.

"Profanity is best left outside the office," said April Masini, an advice and relationship columnist and author based in New York. "When in doubt, be conservative and use your vocabulary skills — there are many words that you can substitute for the F word, the A word, the B word, the C word, the S word — Why risk offending someone? Just keep it clean."

Etiquette experts and labor attorneys recommend using common sense and good judgement even if President Donald Trump partakes with phrases like the twelve-letter Oedipal expletive and an expressed desire to"bomb the sh*t out of ISIS." Anthony Scaramucci, the outspoken former White House communications director, even admitted in a tweet that he "sometimes use colorful language." I will refrain in this arena …," he added, after using extremely vulgar language in a New Yorker interview that included references to auto-fellatio.

Uttering the occasional f-bomb at work is not deemed to be vulgar language if the intent is not abusive or derogatory and does not occur in front of customers, said Thomas Nguyen, a partner and co-founder of Peli Peli, a Houston-based South African restaurant group.

"If someone says, 'It's f*cking awesome,' I get excited because it must be awesome," he said. "If people cuss, I'm O.K. with that as long as they aren't trying to offend someone."

Even Nguyen uses profanity and does not agree with society's ban on speaking cuss words.

"I say it all the time to my employees, but that's just how I talk," he said. "It's not meant in a negative way."

Peli Peli's human resources policies address how employees should treat each other in the workplace, which is a higher priority.

Nguyen believes that profanity is a means of expression and not comparable to vulgar language like racial epithets.

"If you say 'fudge you' or 'sh*t' or 'f*ck,' are you really saying it with ill intent towards me," he said. "What difference does it make?"

Curse words might be more commonly used when co-workers hang out after work or when they are attending a weekend event like an industry softball game, said Masini.

"It's still better to keep it clean, but you shouldn't be surprised to hear cuss words that are the norm in certain circles," she said.

Office culture makes a difference and smaller companies, startups or the restaurant or fashion industry might be more lax about their rules. Erring on the side of conservative behavior is the "rule to go by when considering cussing," said Masini.

"Clearly you would not curse in a kindergarten classroom as the teacher or teacher's aide," she said. "However, some purely adult offices use profanity as a matter of fact. It's business as usual and in these offices, it's almost considered required language. Use your judgement and gauge your company culture before spewing a cuss-word peppered rant."

The use of profanity is more prevalent is some male-dominated industries such as factories, but many women have potty mouths also, said Jacqueline Whitmore, an etiquette expert and the founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach, Fla.

Once employees are used to saying cuss words in front of their co-workers, it is easy for a slip of tongue to occur around managers or clients.

"This could diminish your credibility and can be offensive," she said. "Some of the most educated people don't use it because their vocabulary is so lush and lyrical that they don't need it to get it their point across."

In addition to setting the wrong tone, swearing diminishes an employee's personal brand as well as the company's reputation, Whitmore said.

"What you say is like how you carry yourself," she said. "If you spew out profanity, it becomes part of your personal brand."

Individuals who use profanity occasionally are often taken more seriously when they do swear.

"Use more tact and diplomacy," Whitmore said. "There is a time and a place for everything. What comes out of your mouth is just as important as what you wear. If you use profanity all the time, it becomes white noise."

Options for Employees

When employees have crossed the line and uttered a phrase out of anger or entertainment, the appropriate response is to apologize immediately, Masini said.

Cover your bases and utilize phrases such as, 'I hope my language didn't offend you,' or ask, 'does my salty language offend you?'" she said.

The repeated use of foul language in the workplace can be a precursor to more serious offenses such as sexual harassment and discrimination, said Michael Marra, a New York-based labor law attorney at Fisher Phillips.

"An employer needs to understand where their lines are and most have pretty comprehensive rules in place," he said.

Companies are responsible for addressing and finding solutions for difficult work environments.

"Employers need to show that they are good corporate citizens and have created welcoming workplaces," Marra said. "They also can not retaliate against good faith complaints and should investigate the inappropriate conduct. Companies put themselves in significant jeopardy when they ignore complaints from employees."

There is greater societal acceptance when profanity is used as an adjective, but when it is directed or connected to race, gender, sexuality, age, socioeconomic class or religion, there is a heightened awareness of sensitivity in many workforces, he said.

Employees should not withhold their complaints of offenders, believing that they might stop their swearing or other offensive remarks.

"Don't wait a month before saying something," Marra said. "Speak to someone reasonably soon."

Swearing in the office should be viewed seriously by employees, said Nicholas Sikon, a New York-based lawyer at Outten & Golden, a law firm which represents employees.

"Employees should be careful about using profanity in the workplace," he said. "Using profanity, even as a joke, could violate company policy and potentially result in discipline."

Numerous incidences of using profanity could turn out to be harassing conduct, especially if the comments are sexual or racial in nature, Sikon said.

"Generally, HR has a responsibility to both investigate and remedy any harassing conduct," he said.

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