A senior manager at a transport company has been awarded £420,000 at an Employment Tribunal following a prolonged period of harassment by her boss who bombarded her with peach emojis. It should, says Rhian Radia, remind businesses that they will be held responsible for harassment and victimisation in all its forms.
The use of emojis in the workplace is commonplace and with good reason, a smiley face or thumbs up is a quick and easy way to show appreciation or support. The widespread adoption of collaboration tools in the workplace, such as Slack and Teams, has favoured this more informal and immediate way of communicating and sharing with colleagues.
Yet their use changes regularly and can easily be misinterpreted or used in unintended ways, leaving businesses open to allegations of harassment and bullying.
At the end of October 2022, a senior manager at an unnamed transport company was awarded £420,000 at an Employment Tribunal following a prolonged period of harassment where she was bombarded with the ‘peach emoji’.
As is often the case, there was much more to this campaign of harassment, with unwanted invitations to dinner, to move abroad together to start a new business and drunken telephone calls from her boss.
She eventually resigned following a dispute over a rejected salary increase. She subsequently tried to withdraw the resignation, arguing during the grievance process that the requested salary increase was rejected because she had ‘snubbed her boss’s advances’.
Employment Judge Joanna Wade commented in the case that the grievance investigation panel had treated the claimant like a “scheming femme fatale” choosing to side with her boss and his version of events.
The impact of harassment and bullying will often have devastating consequences on home and professional life. In this instance, this senior manager has since been unable to work, suffering from depression, anxiety disorder and post-traumatic disorder symptoms that were, in part, recognised in the Employment Tribunal award. The claimant was awarded £24,000 for injury to feelings and £30,000 for psychiatric injury. There was a “double impact” for this claimant who not only had to deal with the harassment by her boss but also to endure a discriminatory internal process when she spoke out.
Where grievance processes are handled badly and in this case in a discriminatory way, there are inevitably consequences and to an employee which should not be lost.
This case is not an isolated incident where harassment cases have involved emojis and will probably not be the last. Yet this case should serve as a reminder that businesses should have anti-harassment measures in place.
The starting point is clear and robust harassment policies. Whilst these do not necessarily have to specifically cover the use of emojis, this may be something an employer wishes to include if widely used across the business. Policies can be useful in highlighting where boundaries are crossed at work. Too often company policies do not move with our times languishing on an intranet when a fresh update could be a very positive thing. It is harder to argue ignorance about when a line is crossed when there is clarity in a policy.
Harassment policies should also be supported by regular training of staff to include spotting and calling out harassment or victimisation. A culture where employees feel they can report harassment or victimisation should also be encouraged and supported.
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The above is accurate as at 01 November 2022. The information above may be subject to change during these ever-changing times
The content of this event should not be considered legal advice and each matter should be considered on a case-by-case basis.