People are increasingly using electronic forms of communication, which often includes sending emails in the workplace. In recent years, users have begun adding emojis as a means to express ideas, opinions and emotions to their electronic communications. One survey reveals that 76 percent of Americans have used emojis in correspondence exchanged at work.
After well publicized accounts of emails putting senders on the losing side of a lawsuit, many refrain from authoring self-incriminating dispatches, particularly in the workplace. However, the use of what are seemingly innocent or cryptic emojis have been on the rise and have landed some employers in trouble. Sometimes what is conveyed in an email is evidence of employment discrimination.
Take the case of an HR department who notified an employee’s supervisor that his employee would not be returning within the time frame permitted by his FMLA leave. The HR employee included an emoji depicting a popular gaming world symbol, meaning ‘game over’ in the email. Subsequently, the employee was fired, but was able to argue in court that the company ‘harbored an unlawful animus towards those who take family and medical leave and those who are disabled’ based on the emojis exchanged by his superiors.
Another example is one in which an employee complained to HR about a co-worker sexually harassing her. As required, human resources sent the details of the complaint to the employee’s immediate supervisor and received the response ‘Are you kidding me? She complains about everything…I’ll look into it”. The supervisor went on to include an emoji of someone painting their nails, which proved to be very poor judgement. The employee was able to show that her report of discrimination was not taken seriously based not only the words in the email, but the popular interpretation of the emoji as “can’t be bothered…too busy with more important stuff…wink wink”.
Discrimination in the work place is no laughing matter for those effected. Discrimination based on race, gender, sex, religion, age or disability can lead to debilitating stress, lost promotions, harassment, and even wrongful termination. If you have been a victim of workplace misconduct, contact the Law Offices of Stoltze & Updegraff PLC for help today. We provide strong advocacy and knowledgeable legal assistance for those who have been discriminated against at work.
Source: The National Law Review, “EMOJI-GOSH! How Emojis in Workplace Communications Can Spark Lawsuit (Or Make It Harder To Defend One)”, by Peter Tshanz, accessed December 8, 2015.