Will swearing at work mean your boss can immediately sack you?

In the case of Smith v Aussie Waste  Management Pty Ltd [2015] FWC 1044 (12 February 2015)  Mr Smith a rubbish truck driver lodged an unfair dismissal application against his employer where he was terminated for allegedly swearing at his manager. On the day of his dismissal  Mr Smith was apparently taking longer than usual to complete his rubbish collection round allegedly (which Mr Smith said was due to mechanical difficulties with a vehicle).  His supervisor Mr Coombes called him  about the alleged lateness and the evidence suggests the conversation was quite heated and resulted in Mr Smith hanging up on Mr Coombes. The Commission accepted Mr Coombes’ evidence that he terminated Mr Smith because he said “you dribble shit, you always dribble fucking shit”.

The Commission found Mr Smith was unfairly dismissed. Whether summary dismissal is justified will depend on the circumstances such as:

Whether the swearing was directed  at another person, especially a supervisor or manager, as opposed  to swearing at an inanimate object or its use as an adjective. Swearing must be considered in the context of the workplace, for example use by a rubbish truck driver might be different to an office worker.

Whether the swearing was overheard by anyone else- if it undermines the employers authority in the Workplace. The take home message is watch your tongue, but if something does slip in the heat of the moment it won’t necessarily be the end of your job but seek early advice.

If you are dismissed you only have 21 days of the dismissal coming into effect to make an unfair dismissal or general protections application to the Fair Work Commission.