Davies Ndumiso Sibanda, Labour Matters
WHILE the language we use at work is never an issue in many instances, there are times when language used can result in disciplinary action and in worst cases dismissal.
In many workplaces, abusive language which could be treated as jokes or rude is tolerated and accepted as part of the workplace culture.
However, there are cases where such language will not be acceptable and can lead to disciplinary action.
Any words that are said which impact negatively on the dignity of fellow employees, the employer or the business’ customers could result in disciplinary action.
It is therefore important for employees to avoid using abusive language.
Where abusive language is directed at one’s supervisor or somebody senior in the organisation, it could be viewed as insubordination and the employee might be disciplined.
In cases where abusive language is directed at colleagues, the problem is that it impacts negatively on the labour relations and the employee could easy find himself charged with an act inconsistent with one’s implied conditions of his contract and dismissed.
This is so because on being employed, one is impliedly obligated to conduct himself in a manner that does not upset labour relations.
Courts have looked at cases of abusive language and have generally dealt with them on a case by case basis as circumstances of each case are different.
For example, foul language used by mine workers underground or college students among themselves, might not be an issue at all to them.
However, an outsider might not be amused.
In such cases, the courts are unlikely to view the conduct of workers as misconduct unless it was addressed to the outsider.
This kind of approach becomes highly debatable.
Courts have said the impact of abusive language depends on who is addressed and the circumstances under which the language has been used and impact on labour relations.
There are also cases where the abusive language is of a racist or sexist nature, in such cases courts are not lenient and employees can easily be dismissed.
There is another type of abusive language which is common these days which is sent via WhatsApp, e-mail or telephone.
If the message turns out to be offensive, it’s possible there could be disciplinary action and in worse cases, such conduct attracts criminal charges related to abuse of electronic media.
In conclusion, workers should strive to use civil language at all times to avoid being taken for disciplinary hearings.
-Davies Ndumiso Sibanda can be contacted on: e-mail: [email protected]