Would You Fire Someone for Using Profanity?

Teachers in Arizona are going to have to watch their language in the workplace if this bill comes to pass.
Business Writers
February 13, 2012

Teachers in Arizona may have to watch their language. A new bill calling for G-rated schools could have them fired for using obscene, indecent or profane speech.

State Senator Lori Klein has introduced a bill which punishes publicly-funded educators whose speech does not meet Federal Communications Commission standards for what can be said on TV and radio broadcasts. Several Republican lawmakers are backing Senate Bill 1467, the proposed measures. The punishments would range from a one-week suspension for a first offense to the possibility of firing for a third offense.

Klein told the Arizona Republic that she was prompted to sponsor the bill after constituents complained about high school teachers using inappropriate language in front of students.

"Students are young and impressionable and teachers should not be using four-letter words in the classroom," she said.

The bill would apply to any public preschool, K-12 school, community college or university. Klein said she was still tweaking the bill, and probably will lower the first offense punishment to a warning.

The bill's current wording makes no distinction between using profane language in front of students or in conversation with a colleague–in other words, teachers could be punished if caught using language deemed inappropriate anywhere on school grounds.

The Arizona Senate's majority leader, Andy Biggs (a Republican) supports the bill. He said the proposed law is not a free-speech violation–the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed for reasonable speech restrictions based on "time, place and manner," he told The Republic.

Greg Lukianoff of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has observed that the law would block the teaching of such classics as Ulysses, The Canterbury Tales, and Catcher in the Rye. It also would limit any class discussions about free speech, since an important Supreme Court case in that field hinged on a 1971 case where a man wore a jacket in the Los Angeles Courthouse bearing the slogan "F--k The Draft."

In November, the city of St. Charles, Missouri, fired actress Laura Coppinger for cursing – not on the job, but when she went to take a drug test required of all city employees. Coppinger for six years had portrayed the Nutcracker's Sugar Plum Fairy during a Christmas Traditions Festival.

A survey of some 2,000 executives by online job site TheLadders.com found that 81 percent said foul language at work was "unacceptable," though only slightly more than a third (36 percent) actually had issued a written warning about it. Six percent actually had fired someone for swearing on the job.

What is your policy on profanity in the workplace?

Business Writers