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The perils of using emoticons in references ☺

An employer has been reprimanded for signing a positive reference with a “grumpy face” emoticon, and should have used a “smiley face” instead, according to the Regional Labour Court of Kiel (Arbeitsgericht Kiel – docket number: 5 Ca 80 b/13).   The plaintiff was employed by the defendant as an occupational therapist.  After the plaintiff’s employment ended, the plaintiff challenged the reference provided by the former employer, in particular because the defendant had included a grumpy face next to the signature.   The defendant argued that he did not intend to deride the former employee by using the emoticon, and that he normally signed off with an emoticon – but usually with a smiley face.   The court felt that the grumpy face created a negative impression of the former employee.  Under German law, a reference should not contain anything intended to contradict the written assessment of the employee.  The addition of the grumpy face did introduce a negative impression particularly as the employer normally signs off with a smiley face.   As such, the court decided in favour of the plaintiff and ordered the defendant to provide a revised reference, substituting a smiley face for the grumpy face.