Words That Can Get You Fired

Question:

What inflammatory words or list of words can get you fired at work? I’m curious about this.

Signed,

Curious


Answer:

Dear Curious:

A question such as yours usually springs from a reaction you have had or have observed others had to an occasional kind of word or pattern of language used in a particular workplace. Is that what prompts your question? Except for the public airwaves I don’t know of any legislation or regulatory ruling that penalizes specific words; and you and George Carlin know and can recite those seven words. Those words are sexually suggestive or sexually explicit. And in a religiously biased culture, sexual talk is not considered appropriate in public discourse. Moreover, sexually talk is not considered necessary to do business, and consequently can be interpreted to be sexually harassing. Words that suggest sex, unconnected with doing one’s job, can be seen as creating a harassing or hostile environment even if they are not one of the seven not permitted on television. You probably know those words too, such as honey, love, legs, butt, baby, and even comments about how well clothing may fit if accompanied with a lustful tone. That same rule of thumb no doubt applies to any number of words that are not needed to do business, and therefore, if used in excess, they can get a person fired–words that refer to race, national origin, religion, sexual interest/orientation, physical size, and body type. Talk related to any of these topics does not have to be insulting to get one fired. For example, an employee who talks positively but obsessively about food, God, sports, race, love, age, national origin could get a pick slip because such talk draws attention to topics not instrumental to work for which she/he is being paid to do. To a list of taboo words that are fire-meriting, we must add irrelevant talk can be that can be interpreted as insulting or hurtful to protected classes or that distract from good performance and are not conducive to serving customers/clients. I’m sure you can add other words that demean, mock, or distract to a list of words can get a worker fired. I expect that you know all of this and will say that what you really meant were such things as the f word, N word, etc. The Nixon tapes tell us that he and his people use taboo and prejudicial words. So maybe even the most politically incorrect words are not fire-worthy unless they are leaked. Let me know your thinking on this topic because apparently you have been thinking about it.

William Gorden