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July 16, 2012

Alice Hogg

WHEN security guard Craig Symes told his manager to ”get f—ed” his employers felt they had strong grounds to sack him.

But the company, Linfox Armaguard, has instead found its policies on swearing at work have come under scrutiny.

In one of several cases of workers challenging their dismissal over the use of four-letter words, Mr Symes was reinstated last month because Fair Work Australia found bad language was commonly used in the guard’s Brisbane workplace.

The assistant secretary for the Queensland branch of the Transport Workers Union, Scott Connolly, said Mr Symes felt his employer had shown a double standard. ”He felt uncomfortable and that there was a level of, from his perspective, victimisation in how he was treated in the workplace,” he said.

A Melbourne lawyer, Mary-Jane Ierodiaconou, said employers needed to prove that their policies did not tolerate swearing in the workplace, and educate their staff about this.

”If someone says, ‘Eff off’, and a manager says, ‘Do not say that again. I consider that to be serious misconduct and you might be dismissed if you say it again’, and the person says it again, then that’s a breach of a reasonable and lawful direction, and that’s when it’s a potentially sackable offence.”

But unionists say swearing can be used as an excuse to sack workers.

The Mackay depot of freight company Toll NQX introduced a three-strike swearing policy: workers receive a written warning each time they swear at work and after three warnings they will be fired.

Mr Connolly says he doesn’t think it is impossible to eliminate swearing from all workplaces, but he says employers need to be consistent in their approach to it.

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