There are an ever increasing number of online review websites. One of the more popular online review websites relates to online reviews by employees of their employer. The most popular of these websites is one known as Glassdoor. Glassdoor has been online since 2007 and has become the most popular site for online reviews of employers by employees.
As one might expect there have also been an increase in the number of claims and disputes which are related to those reviews by employers against anonymous employees who post the reviews. The Glassdoor’s public policy is that it will seek to protect the anonymity of the posters to the extent that is reasonable. This means that if the employer files a lawsuit and issues a subpoena in an effort to identify the anonymous poster, Glassdoor will review the subpoena and the content of the review carefully and, in many instances, may oppose the subpoena and refuse to disclose the information that may reveal the identity of the employee absent a review by the Court and a Court Order.
When can an employer initiate suit for a bad online review? The law requires that the content of the review post must be defamatory. This means that the employee must have made a false statement of fact that portrayed the employer in a “poor light”. Many states will also require that the online review be maliciously false which requires proof that the employee knew or should have known that the information was false and posted it anyway. Simply expressing an opinion concerning the employee’s prior work place is generally protected speech under the First Amendment and is not considered defamatory.
Employers over the past several years have initiated lawsuits for reviews on Glassdoor to reveal the identity of employees and make claims for defamation against the employee, or in a case where it is obvious that the employee can be identified without a subpoena, are simply filing suit against the employee. Generally, these employer suits are challenging as Courts tend to favor the finding that a post on a review site, such as Glassdoor, is a matter of opinion or hyperbole despite an arguable false statement of fact. Given that online reviews carry some weight, according to many surveys that assess the persuasiveness of online reviews, employers are finding it increasingly difficult to simply ignore the online reviews. The best practice is to have the matter carefully reviewed by an attorney to weigh both the pros and cons before initiating a lawsuit concerning an online review of your company by a former employee.