Don’t text 😉 to your co-worker; it could be harassment

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – In 2017, the term “emoji” is ubiquitous in the American lexicon. However, these friendly faces may not seem as innocuous as previously thought. Currently, attorneys are reading through thousands of emails and text messages racking their heads in an attempt to decipher the modern hieroglyphics. While mostly harmless, when it comes to the context of the workplace and business, a simple smiley face could be seen as cementing an agreement, a rejection, or be seen as sexual harassment. While no American Courts have ruled on the issue of emoji interpretation. Recently, an Israeli court ruled in favor of a landlord based on a string of emoji sent by a prospective tenant. The Court interpreted these emoji to create a legal obligation of good faith in negotiations on the couple.

In the summer of 2015, Yaniv Dahan posted his house for rent on an Israeli website. Shortly after, Dahan received an emoji-filled text from Yardan Rosen that appeared to show interest in the listing. Dahan immediately took the ad down and began negotiating with Rosen and her partner, Nir Haim Saharoff. During their exchanges Dahan texted Rosen asking for the couple’s corrections to the apartment, letting them know that they would be out of the apartment and have all of their stuff out in reliance on the couple’s emoji responses. Shortly after Dahan let the couple know he was leaving, the couple disappeared, later claiming they were unhappy with the house’s physical condition. The couple went on to rent another apartment.

In his opinion, Judge Amir Weizebbluth ruled that, while the emoji didn’t form a binding contract, they did provide evidence that Rosen and her partner acted in bad faith. The Court noted that Dahan had made several definite statements in reliance on Rosen’s responses. Weizebbluth noted that Rosen’s use of the champagne bottle, smiley face, and dancing figures were icons of optimism, causing Dahan to assume that everything was going through. While no US Courts have tackled the issue of interpreting emoji, many US companies find themselves troubled by the lack of clarity with regard to emoji interpretation.

Christina Janzer, the head of research for Slack, an internet-based communication company, stated that her team uses emoji all the time. Janzer believes the little character can boost productivity and create a more employee-friendly atmosphere. Slack uses the emoji when they need people to take a look at a project or a document. Janzer’s team members use emoji such as the checkmark to show they had read an email, or when Janzer sends a file out a simple “eyes” emoji lets her know that her team members are reading it over. Janzer believes it’s an easy way to respond and react to things as they’re happening while avoiding “reply-all” emails. She fears that creating rules restricting what emoji employees can use will miss the nuanced ways the symbols are used but understand the trouble in interpreting what each one means. Corporations are concerned that a misinterpretation of these emoji can create a hostile work environment or be seen as sexual joking without any context.

Emoji are difficult to interpret, does a smiley face mean ‘I agree’ or is it more sinister?

The experienced New York City sexual harassment attorneys at the Derek Smith Law Group, PLLC, are at the forefront of sexual harassment law. If you feel you have been sexually harassed in your workplace, please give our skilled sexual harassment attorneys a call at (800) 807-2209 for your free consultation.