Text messages are often used as evidence in sexual harassment cases. A lot of harassment happens virtually these days, whether that means sending pictures or written messages.
But there's one other component to consider: The emoji. This small symbol, meant to quickly express an emotion, could play a huge role in a case.
We've already seen it happen. In one case, a woman sent a smiley face emoji to the person that she later accused of sexual harassment. She was claiming that the treatment created a hostile work environment. Since she'd sent that emoji, though, the court said that she wasn't being subjected to such an environment.
In short, this case helps to show that the court may feel like an emoji endorses a certain behavior, promotes that behavior or at least accurately shows how the person felt at the time. If the initial reaction is to smile, laugh or wink, that could undermine someone's case when they later claim they did not want the activity to occur. It could be argued that they were a happy participant and found nothing wrong with that treatment at the time.
Of course, this does not mean that any lighthearted response means there's no case. Maybe you felt compelled to send an emoji that did not reflect how you felt just to keep things from being awkward. Maybe you accidentally clicked on the wrong one and you never meant to send it at all.
There are a lot of ways that a case can play out, but these recent stories show that workers need to be aware of all the communications they send and receive. If you get involved in a complicated harassment case, you also need to know what legal options you have.