Search Blog

“Mug-shots”: Are Employees’ risky beverage containers a cause for concern?

Prior to (and more so during) the pandemic, many individuals who found themselves working from home were limited in ways to express their uniqueness, their personalities, the things that made them, well, them. It started with fun backgrounds. Waves in the distance, a meeting in outer space, your favorite television show’s logo. After cat lawyer’s court appearance glitch (it was either at that point or when the man who couldn’t get unstuck from the talking potato zoom filter made headlines) most employees turned to mugs in order to express their self-identification during zoom calls.

Viewed in the limited context of home offices during meetings, “fun mugs” had risks, but in returning to the office and engaging IRL (in real life), these risks are increased as we continue to see people struggling to maintain appropriate decorum at work.

It may seem outrageous to be hearing this, but may it make sense to perform a quick mug audit? Many of you are shaking your head saying, “Tawny, is that really the best use of my time?” Well let me give you some examples of concerning mugs, which on their face you may have overlooked:

  • “Boss Babe” I’d be shocked if you haven’t seen this one around the office. But what would the team’s response be if Joe walked in tomorrow with a mug saying “I put the ‘man’ in manager”. See how we quickly run into sexism concerns?
  • “Tribe Goals”/“Building My Tribe”/“Find Your Tribe” - How do you think your indigenous employees feel when they see the term tribe thrown around like this?
  • “Warning: Misuse of the word literally makes me figuratively literally punch people in the face” - Mugs that threaten violence in any format (even in jest) should be viewed as high risk.
  • “Lady in the streets Freak in the spreadsheets” - Usher fans know the song that’s referenced. I’m all for a silly spreadsheet joke but be mindful of jokes that can be read as innuendos to sexual acts. For those of you who are not Usher fans this one can be read in that way.
  • “That’s what she said”- See above innuendo comment. Honestly if you’re going for an “Office” joke, stick to World’s Best Boss.
  • “Anything from the peanut gallery?” - Recall that peanut gallery is one of those nasty terms with a race-based past. In Listening to America: An Illustrated History of Words and Phrases From Our Lively and Splendid Past the term is noted as a synonym for back seats or upper balcony mostly reserved for Black people.
  • “Free the ta tas” – This one we see more in October during breast cancer awareness month, but remind employees that mugs concerning body parts are ones that we want to leave at home. Granted, I’m sure there are some mugs about ears and elbows that are low risk, but mugs about breasts and genitalia are high risk.
  • “1 Corinthians 6:9-11” – See I saved the tougher ones for the end. Any mugs which are quoting outside sources with nothing more should be reviewed further. This one may be viewed as harassing; specifically, by those identifying as LGBTQ+ and is a mug that you may want to ask employees to keep at home.

Will one coffee mug land you with an administrative claim before the EEOC? Not likely, but when you add it into other discriminatory or harassing behavior, an offensive mug that coworkers have to look at day in and day out will likely support a finding that the inappropriate behavior is pervasive.

For questions as to best practices to take to limit exposure of a discrimination or harassment suit, contact Tawny L. Alvarez or a member of Verrill's Employment and Labor Group.

Topics: Discrimination, HR Best Practices