Respectful behaviour – how does your workplace stack up?


A recent decision in the Fair Work Commission (FWC) has had us thinking about the concept of the ‘Respectful Workplace’.

Given our laid-back approach to language and communication in Australia, the definition of ‘respectful’ in your workplace might feel a little flexible, but it is important to understand the requirements of employers in providing our employees and workers with a safe and comfortable place to work.

FWC Decision in relation to ‘offensive’ words

The case recently put before the FWC dealt with the situation of a worker who used a number of offensive words and terms in reference to his co-workers. The words and terms were offensive for a number of reasons, not least of which was that they were racially charged.

In handing down his decision, in which he upheld the right of the employer to dismiss the employee based on their conduct after a thorough investigation, the Commissioner stated that “Crudity can be tolerated, racism cannot.”


What does it mean in practice?

This is an interesting concept, in our opinion – at what point does crudity become a problem? How much do we tolerate? Whilst I imagine most would agree with the Commissioner’s decision around the racially charged offensive comments, how many of us would agree on what is considered ‘offensive’ when it is not so clear cut?

As Managers, how do we deal with this idea of a ‘respectful workplace’? We certainly don’t want to stifle anybody’s personality, and we don’t want to be seen as the ‘fun police’, but there are ways to manage this without these consequences.


What should you do next?

It is important for all businesses to decide on, document and communicate their Code of Conduct – the minimum standards of behaviours for all employees, when dealing with each other, suppliers, customers and clients. Additionally, you should discuss with your employees the process for reporting any concerns or complaints in regards to people’s behaviour in the workplace. Who do they go to? How quickly can they expect a result?


Not only is it important to communicate these standards to your current team, but make sure that any new team members that come on board are well versed in these processes as part of their onboarding to ensure consistency of message.


We all like to have fun at work, and it’s important that employees are allowed to be themselves in the workplace – but we need to be respectful of one another. As a Manager, ensure you’re fulfilling your responsibility to make clear the behavioural expectations – not only by informing your employees, but by demonstrating those respectful behaviours at all times.


The Seed HR Hub has a number of documents to help you to define your Code of Conduct and your approach to a Respectful Workplace. Please feel free to contact us, we’d love to hear from you.

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