#MeToo goes beyond inappropriate touching and solicitation for sex, but also into the kind of emojis fellow employees may send to each other, apparently.
According to Kelly Hughes in National Law Review, this Valentine's Day, employers are worried about male employees sending inappropriate emojis to their female co-workers.
"This year ... many employers are focusing on the ever-evolving ways employees communicate with one another, including through the use of emojis in text messages and other electronic communications," writes Hughes before going on to explain how employers should avoid "a new Valentine's Day conundrum."
Emojs have become so complicated that there is an emoji encyclopedia to help the less savvy decipher the symbols. Similarly, with the cultural move toward a broader view of sexual harassment, emojis that have been viewed as generally innocuous may gain newer and more inappropriate connotations, thus opening the door for allegations of sexual harassment. For example, a wink face following a joke could be perceived as a proposition, a tongue out face could be interpreted as an inappropriate gesture, and let's not even get into the new meaning of the eggplant emoji.
What on earth does an eggplant emoji mean? According to Vice, an eggplant emoji means, well, a male appendage. This all means that a whole new vocabulary has opened up regarding emojis, and people unfamiliar with this might get themselves into some unintended #MeToo trouble. A bizarre example would be a guy sending his female co-worker an eggplant emoji as a means to say he wants eggplant parmesan for lunch and her thinking he's getting cute.
Hughes advises that employers proceed with caution and discernment concerning the #MeToo emoji and have HR deal with it if sexual harassment has indeed taken place. She recommends employers do the following:
Ensure electronic communications policies are robust and reference expectations of compliance with anti-harassment and nondiscrimination policies.
Explicitly mention, in anti-harassment policies, that harassment can include symbols, such as emoji use.
Conduct training for supervisory and managerial employees on nondiscrimination and anti-harassment laws, and make sure supervisors and managers are aware of their obligations to escalate any report of harassment (including inappropriate emoji use) to human resources or via other avenues the company articulates in its policies.
Implement policies regarding electronic communication with nonexempt employees outside of work hours.