Why pet names should be banned from the office

Former ABC chairman Justin Milne allegedly used the words ‘missus’, ‘chicks’ and ‘babes’ at work. Picture: AAP Image/Joel Carrett

THIS week, three surprising words made headlines across Australia.

Suddenly, the terms “missus”, “chicks” and “babes” were everywhere after it was reported former ABC chairman Justin Milne allegedly used the words to refer to female staff members.

Mr Milne denied the claims, but ended up resigning yesterday following days of scandals involving the national broadcaster.

His resignation followed the sensational sacking of managing director Michelle Guthrie, followed by reports Mr Milne had ordered her to fire senior journalist Emma Alberici thanks to pressure from ex-PM Malcolm Turnbull.

But as the ABC’s crisis rages on, Mr Milne’s alleged use of those three words has sparked debate across Australia.

News.com.au spoke to Shine Lawyers’ employment law expert Will Barsby to discover why they were so controversial — and which words the average Aussie should never say at work.

“Any language that is sexist or demeans anyone in the workplace, female or male, would be very outdated in the modern workplace,” Mr Barsby said.

“If workers feel demeaned or bullied or harassed by these terms, such conduct could be considered sexually harassing behaviour or could be a breach of company policy and procedures.

“These kinds of words alleged to have been used devalue the role of women in the workplace and could in fact breach sex harassment laws.”

Mr Barsby said the words could also be considered to be an example of sex discrimination, which can include jokes, innuendo and comments about a person because of their gender.

“Sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexual conduct which makes a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated. This can included unwelcome or offensive nicknames,” Mr Barsby said.

Former ABC chairman Justin Milne allegedly used the words ‘missus’, ‘chicks’ and ‘babes’ at work. Picture: AAP Image/Joel Carrett

Former ABC chairman Justin Milne allegedly used the words ‘missus’, ‘chicks’ and ‘babes’ at work. Picture: AAP Image/Joel CarrettSource:AAP

“While these comments are all allegations at this stage it is important to note that males and females do not have to put up with the use of this kind of language in the office.

“If you feel uncomfortable with a nickname that your colleague or boss is using then, if you feel it is safe to do so, tell them you don’t like it. You can also report the issue to your HR department. If the issue continues you may be able to take action via the Fair Work Commission or Australian Human Rights Commission.”

Mr Barsby said name calling that eventuates to bullying can cause people serious harm — and can lead to workplace compensation claims.

“We are not saying that you can’t call your wife the ‘missus’ or … your friends ‘babe’ — there is certainly a place for those terms and (they are) classic Aussie lingo — it just isn’t in the modern workplace,” he said.

Mr Barsby also shared the top terms that should never be uttered in the workplace.

WORDS TO BAN FROM THE OFFICE:

• Missus

Missus can be particularly offensive because it’s not always a term of endearment — and can be used to refer to the “ball and chain” at home, Mr Barsby said.

That’s why it is especially inappropriate at work.

• Guys (to refer to mixed groups)

While it is not necessarily demeaning, some might find it offensive.

To be on the safe side, stick to “hi team” instead.

• Chicks and babes

These terms might be seen to be sexualising female colleagues or sexually demeaning women, Mr Barsby said.

If women felt these words demeaned them, they would have a sexual harassment case against whoever used the terms.

• Honey

In the workplace this isn’t an appropriate nickname for anyone — although it is often a term of endearment used at home.

• Darling

Similar to honey, Mr Barsby said “darling” should also be avoided if it has the potential to offend colleagues.

• Girls or boys

“Calling people in the office ‘girls’ or ‘boys’ can infer they are young and incapable,” Mr Barsby said.

“Age is another protected attribute in the workplace and you can’t be discriminated against for your age, whatever age that is.”

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