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Happy Valentine's Day: Employers Worry About Sexual Emoji Harassment

Forbid the eggplants, but leave the winking faces alone, please.

ValentineElnur / DreamstimeEmployers may frown on male employees sending unsolicited flowers or candy to specific female co-workers. But what about inappropriate emojis?

"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," Kelly Hughes reports in a National Law Review article about the steps employers should take to avoid "a new Valentine's Day conundrum."

Emojis' meanings, Hughes writes,

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.

If you don't know what the eggplant emoji means, the URL of this Vice article gives it away.

Male employees shouldn't be sending eggplant emojis to random female coworkers, any more than they should be sending random people flowers. But—and here's the critical thing—the language of the emoji is still in flux. A lot of people might not know what the eggplant emoji means. They might not understand which emojis communicate flirtatiousness. They wouldn't have necessarily caught on to these double entendres and hidden messages, because the rules and boundaries aren't sufficiently established yet.

That being the case, it seems both unwise and unfair for employers to get bent too far out of shape about improper emoji usage. Hughes says the best practice is to make sure supervisors know their duty to report harassment—"including inappropriate emoji usage"—to the proper HR channels. But overzealously enforcing such a mandate could ensnare employees who had no idea they were committing a social media faux paux. We know what such an environment would look like: It would resemble certain college campuses, where a hypersensitivity to offense and a fear of landing on the wrong side of Title IX, the federal sexual harassment law, have threatened the free expression rights of countless students and professors.

It would be easier to shrug off concerns that the movement against sexual harassment has gone too far if we weren't seriously considering an emoji reporting policy that forbids both the eggplant and the winking face.

Photo Credit: Elnur / Dreamstime

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Employers may frown on male employees sending unsolicited flowers or candy to specific female co-workers. But what about inappropriate emojis?

    Emojis aren't going to make our nation's secretaries overweight and therefore less attractive. But on the other hand, chocolates might fatten them up just enough to make them more catchable as we're chasing them around the desk.

  • Rich||

    They wouldn't have necessarily caught on to these double entendres and hidden messages, because the rules and boundaries aren't sufficiently established yet.

    "Your wife -- Does she enjoy ... *photography*?"

  • Finrod||

    Snap snap grin wink wink nudge nudge, say no more!

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    She's quite the sport, ay?

  • UnrepentantCurmudgeon||

    Not to mention a real "go-er"

  • Eidde||

    For scientific purposes, I did a Google Image search for "obscene emojis." Conclusion: They're not safe for work.

  • Finrod||

    Do they make cartoon animals die and disintegrate like in Deadpool?

  • Drave Robber||

    A lot of people might not know what the eggplant emoji means.

    Well, that one is easy to guess.

    I however still have no idea about the squirrel emoji.

  • Brandybuck||

    Eggplant only makes sense depending on the particular artwork involved. The linked article shows one that might look like a dick if one wraps a rubber band around his penis until it turns blue, and then squints really hard. But no way in hell does a dish of mousaka look sexy to anyone but a particularly horny Greek. (Hint, it's their version of hot apple pie)..

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    look like a dick if one wraps a rubber band around his penis until it turns blue, and then squints really hard.

    You could just say a completely normal penis.

  • Brandybuck||

    Yours may be normally blue, mine is not. Only my balls are blue.

  • Brandybuck||

    Eggplant emojis? Is that really our number one workplace problem now?

  • Texasmotiv||

    Just shows how far we've come...

  • Number 2||

    Come now Brandybuck. Everybody knows that Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer started with eggplant emojis! It's only one short step from eggplant drawings to raping women in locked offices and whacking off into potted plants!

    But does this mean we can no longer order eggplant rollatini for office lunches?

  • Don't look at me.||

    It's the gateway emoji.

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    It's a progressively moving target. Yesterday's ass grab is today's eggplant emoji. And don't even bother about Polish sausages.

  • Rat on a train||

    They're better than durian emojis.

  • Colossal Douchebag||

    Dude, these ads aren't gonna sell themselves

  • Mickey Rat||

    Do men communicate in suggestive emojis to random female coworkers or specific ones? Perhaps ones they already might be flirting with?

  • UnrepentantCurmudgeon||

    I loved Venus Williams' response at a press conference when asked if she and her sister used emojis when texting each other. Said Venus: "No, we prefer to speak English".

  • brec||

    social media faux paux

    I believe this phrase is a faux pas, but I cannot authoritatively assert that it is a social media faux pas as it was in the article, not in the comments.

  • Drave Robber||

    'faux paux' is just a faux-pas hocus-pocus.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    I better axe fo pa on that one.

  • DajjaI||

    If anyone complains about your emoji use, just say you're 'autistic' and thus unable to distinguish the varieties of appropriate social affect and communication. As libertarians, we can get away with it. The chicks dig it, if ya know what I mean. ;-)

  • Rhywun||

    employees sending unsolicited flowers or candy to specific female co-workers

    This happens? WTF is wrong with people?

  • Hugh Akston||

    Some people are attracted to women.

  • Rhywun||

    Doing that at work is just asking for trouble.

  • Think It Through||

    "Unsolicited" is what throws me. You can only give candy if it's preceded by "give me candy"? In a flirting relationship or an actual dating relationship (whether the two people involved are co-workers or not), a Valentine's Day gift gets zero romantic points if you are told to do it.

  • Rhywun||

    I read "unsolicited" as "no prior existing relationship", as in, you're looking for a hookup but you're gonna find yourself on the wrong side a sexual harassment lawsuit instead.

  • Zeb||

    Maybe "unsolicited" isn't the right term. "Unexpected" perhaps. I don't think that sending unsolicited flowers at work to someone who you are in a relationship with is what they have in mind. Doing it at work for someone who you aren't sure is interested in you is just likely to be weird and awkward. It's not some horrible transgression, but seems ill advised.

  • Rhywun||

    Agreed.

  • EscherEnigma||

    Sending a dozen roses to your boyfriend/girlfriend/wife/husband without warning? Probably okay.

    Sending a dozen roses to your secretary, who is not your boyfriend/girlfriend/wife/husband without warning? Probably not okay.

    Sending white tulips to someone who just had a family member die? Probably okay.

    Sending a dozen roses to someone who just got divorced with a card that has a winky emoji and eggplant emoji next to the "OK" emoji? Probably not okay.

  • Zeb||

    That's been my reaction to most of this sexual harassment stuff. Who the fuck thinks it's reasonable to behave like that? But I've always worked in a very male-dominant workplace, so there's probably a lot of ridiculous shit I've never been exposed to.

  • UnrepentantCurmudgeon||

    When I was a lad starting to make my way as an employee, almost the first piece of advice I got was "don't shit where you eat". Men -- or women -- who cannot respect that basic bit of life wisdom pretty much deserve what they get.

  • EscherEnigma||

    For Christmas someone got me a pack of "emoji magnets" that came with a little book explaining what they meant.

    The eggplant emoji was explained as meaning "good luck". So paired with a smiling face, it might mean "I hope I get lucky".

    Since it was an all-ages gag gift, I guess that's as far as they were comfortable explaining it.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Did it by chance explain what the Eggplant Emoji next to the sweat Emoji means? I'm still puzzling that one out and could really use some help.

  • Rhywun||

    This is getting as complicated as the back-pocket hanky system.

  • UnrepentantCurmudgeon||

    You've already spent more time on deciphering the Eggplant Emoji than I have deciphering emojis in the last 5 years. Somehow I keep finding better things to do.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Forbid the eggplants

    WHY DON'T YOU JUST FUCKING ASK FOR THE DEATH PENALTY

  • Hugh Akston||

    BUCS is way too classy to send eggplant emojis anyway. He prefers the dolphin emoji followed by the chocolate donut emoji.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Real talk. I just don't ever use emojis.

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

    This is gettin' too real for me.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    You know I bring the truth bombs. YOU KNEW THIS.

  • Hugh Akston||

    So you're still sending gifs to convey your intentions?

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Don't ever link to Guy Fieri again.

  • Zeb||

    I hate to even say Emoji. Gross. And I absolutely refuse to use any emojis or smileys or whatever those things are.

  • Don't look at me.||

    How will anyone know what you are feeling?

  • Zeb||

    They'll just have to come talk to me.

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

    :P

  • UnrepentantCurmudgeon||

    I use about 5, all innocuous, and only when I don't have time to type a response. I hope and pray the day never comes when I need an emoji to express myself to anyone.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    ;p

  • Thrackmoor||

    Triggered!

  • Don't look at me.||

    Flattered!

  • Agammamon||

    . . . any more than they should be sending random people flowers.

    wat?

    Men don't, and never have, sent random people flowers.

  • UnrepentantCurmudgeon||

    I have sent people random flowers, but it isn't quite the same thing.

  • Agammamon||

    They wouldn't have necessarily caught on to these double entendres and hidden messages, because the rules and boundaries aren't sufficiently established yet.

    Double entendres and hidden messages *can't exist* unless the rules and boundaries are sufficiently established.

    That's why a simple sentence like 'want some sausage?' can have more than one meaning depending on tone and context.

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

    emoticons4life

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    Emojis at work? This is what you get for hiring stupid people.

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

    ;)

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    Of course, not sending emojis to your female co-workers is harassment too. Excluding them, or some such.

  • Azathoth!!||

    Male employees shouldn't be sending eggplant emojis to random female coworkers, any more than they should be sending random people flowers

    Why?

  • Ornithorhynchus||

    Flowers are plant genitals. Giving anyone a handful of severed genitals is clearly a sick perverted act.

  • ||

    So all this time when I've been using the eggplant emoji instead of the n-word... godfuckingdammit!

  • Ornithorhynchus||

    Don't eggplants contain small amounts of nicotine? Sure, it's in the leaves, not the fruit, but it still probably violates current Public Health laws.

    We may have to ban tomatoes, too.

  • EscherEnigma||

    Tomatoes are part of the nightshade family. Nightshades are poisonous. TOMATOS ARE POISON.

  • MaleMatters||

    Re: "Employers may frown on male employees sending unsolicited flowers or candy to specific female co-workers."

    But they won't frown on female employees sending unsolicited flowers or candy to specific male co-workers?

    I sincerely believe it all could have been so very different -- so much better -- between men and women. Maybe there's still hope. See:

    "How We Waded Into The Sexual Harassment Quagmire -- Taking the Long, Hard Path Out: One Man's View" http://malemattersusa.wordpres.....-quagmire/

    This is an in-depth commentary that may be the most thorough analysis you can find of what I think has for many decades been the sexes' most alienating and destructive behavioral difference.

    I believe this difference, supported by both sexes, results not only in most of the ordinary sexual harassment we hear of, but also in much of the sexual coercion of women.

    It also addresses the question no one has ever asked: What happens when toxic masculinity meets toxic femininity?

    And meets toxic feminism?

  • UnrepentantCurmudgeon||

    Sorry, but there is no "cultural move toward a broader view of sexual harassment". There is a small slice of the female American population, mostly in Hollywood, that are now making every kind of contact with a man sound like harassment or worse. But for most of us? It's irrelevant. We're too busy living our lives. When major corporations can get themselves into a twist over emojis they have far more serious problems to start addressing.

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