Thumbs down for emoji wage negotiations

Thumbs down for emoji wage negotiations

An employer has been described as “incredibly stupid” by an employment law expert after the company used emojis to communicate important workplace issues.

At the start of the pandemic in March 2020, a joinery manufacturing company was forced to shut down on a temporary basis and staff were offered to be part of the Government’s wage subsidy scheme.

To ascertain whether each employee wished to participate in the scheme, the company set up a WhatsApp group and told its employees to send a thumbs up or thumbs down emoji to indicate their wishes.

This came to light when an employee, an apprentice carpenter, brought a case to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) after he was told there would be no job for him when the company reopened because he declined to be part of the subsidy scheme.

WRC adjudicator Thomas O’Driscoll has recommended that the employer pay the apprentice carpenter €1,000 compensation for his unfair dismissal.

The employee had sent the thumbs down emoji because the wages he would have received under the scheme were not sufficient for him to support his family.

In his ruling, Mr O’Driscoll highlighted that the pandemic was a challenging time for everyone but, adding that “it does not absolve employers from the responsibility of dealing in a proper manner when it comes to lay-off and/or potentially dismissal”.

He said the employer failed to provide a formal letter and the communication by WhatsApp fell short of what a reasonable employer would have done in the circumstances.

Employment expert Richard Grogan said the case “beggars belief”.

He added: “I am flabbergasted that an employer would deal with emojis as a way of dealing with important workplace issues. What would have happened if the employee had replied with a smiley face emoji and tears flowing down?

“Employee relations are rarely as black and white as a thumbs-up or thumbs-down emoji. Communicating via emojis is a particularly inappropriate way of dealing with complex issues and comes into the realm of crass stupidity.”

The employee found other employment in July 2020 and Mr Grogan warned the employer that the recommended award would have been much higher had that not have been the case.

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