As emojis become more common in informal workplace communications, such as text and Slack messages, employers face rising concerns about their role in harassment cases. Some employers are even considering banning the use of emojis in workplace communication.
Why are emojis a growing harassment concern?
Emojis and workplace harassment
Emojis have been increasingly cropping up as evidence in lawsuits since 2004. In 2019, plaintiffs presented emojis as evidence of harassment in over 100 court cases.
Reasons emojis are problematic in the workplace
Some workers use emojis to make sexual references, such as sending an eggplant emoji as a stand-in for male genitalia or a peach emoji as a substitute for a butt. The issue can be further complicated by the fact that employees using different devices or different versions of the same software may not receive the same emoji that another employee sent. Problems sometimes arise when employees use emojis to cloak inappropriate comments to other employees who do not want to view such messages.
What employers can do
Employers may need to train supervisors and employees to recognize when emojis are not appropriate in workplace communication and set boundaries for emoji use. Employers may also need to update sexual harassment policies to specifically address the use of emojis in suggestive or sexual ways.
What employees can do
Employees who receive inappropriate communications from supervisors or other employees should notify human resources immediately. This should trigger an investigation by your employer.
As methods of communication change in the workplace, policies that govern workplace communication must change with them. Employers and employees need to be aware of the potential consequences of inappropriate emoji use in the workplace.