Whether you live to work, or work for the weekend, our jobs are tremendously important in our lives. Our jobs provide for our families, they enable us to make a living, they give us a sense of purpose, and help us achieve our dreams.
Therefore, doing anything that might jeopardize our ability to have a job can stir up anxiety—and more than a few questions.
On Glassdoor, posting a company review or submitting salary can stir up many of those questions. Is my review really anonymous? How honest can I really be? Will my employer find out? Can my manager penalize me for posting on Glassdoor?
You've got questions, and we have answers. Sure, being transparent about your job or workplace can seem scary, but the good news is that reviewing a company not only helps millions of job seekers who rely on Glassdoor's reviews and other user-submitted content to find jobs and companies they love, it also helps the companies be better, do better.
Don't believe us? We asked the experts: Tom O'Brien, deputy general counsel at Glassdoor, and Brad Serwin, general counsel at Glassdoor. Between the two of them, they have over 40 years of experience in tackling legal matters, including issues around employment.
Here's what they had to say about posting company reviews, the protections you enjoy as employees, and some social media pitfalls we should all avoid.
Question #1: Posting on social media has become commonplace. However, are there limits, legally, employees should be aware of when it comes to posting online about current employers?
There are practical limits, there are company-specific limits and there are legal limits. Practically, don’t post anything publicly that you don’t want your friends, family and, importantly, your employer to see. We all remember when Michael Phelps posted pictures of himself smoking marijuana and it cost him lucrative product endorsements. Of course, there are platforms that allow you to post anonymously, so others won’t be able to associate you with your posts. Glassdoor, for example, is an anonymous platform because we want employees to have a place to speak their minds about their workplace experiences without their employers looking over their shoulder. But that doesn’t mean you can say whatever you want. No matter where you are posting online, you should be mindful to express only your honest opinion or truthful facts.
Your employer probably has a social media policy that prohibits posting confidential information about your company (and perhaps about posting anything about your company) without permission from your company’s public relations group. You are required to follow your company’s legally compliant policies even if they are stricter than what the law would otherwise let you do. If you violate your company’s policies you could be subject to employment discipline up to and including termination.
That said, there are limits to the restrictions employers can place on what you can say about them online. In the US, the National Labor Relations Act is a Federal Law that protects the rights of workers to discuss wages and working conditions with other workers. These protections apply to posts on social media, so your employer isn’t allowed to prevent you from communicating with other employees online about your pay or working conditions – like when you submit a Glassdoor review. Also, while it’s appropriate for your employer to prohibit you from disclosing legitimately confidential business information, employers sometimes try to restrict too much in their employee confidentiality provisions and certain restrictions prove to be unenforceable when challenged.
Finally, the law prohibits you from publishing anything, anywhere, that defames or libels anyone. In the US, your honest opinions are protected by the First Amendment. But if you state false facts that are harmful to your employer’s business reputation, your employer may have a legitimate basis for a claim against you. So it is generally advisable to stick to sharing your opinions rather than stating facts about someone online. If it’s important to you to discuss factual specifics, be sure they are truthful statements. It’s also a good idea to have support for your facts. And don’t bully or harass anyone online. It’s bad netiquette and potentially illegal. Ultimately, you are responsible for what you write, even if you post anonymously.
[Related: Responding to Negative Glassdoor Reviews 101]
Question #2: Legally, can a boss or manager punish employees for posting on company review sites like Glassdoor?
In general; no. But keep in mind, when you post about your employer, you are responsible for abiding by the law and lawful contractual obligations you’ve agreed to. So, to be sure you cannot be punished by your employer, your reviews should state your opinion about workplace conditions, not make statements of fact that could be proven false. And your reviews should not disclose trade secrets or confidential business information.
When it comes to discussing your bosses and other co-workers in your online reviews there are a few things to consider. As we explain in our Community Guidelines, on Glassdoor, we allow reviews that name individuals in the highest positions in a company who have broad influence over the work environment, as long as the review describes the individual’s behavior or performance at work. Individuals in this category include those who are the public face of the company (C-Suite, Executive Director, President, Owner, Founder, etc.). We allow this because we believe this information is generally representative of a company’s culture and can be informative to job candidates. But we don’t think Glassdoor is the place for criticism of your co-workers outside these most senior roles, so we don’t allow reviews that include negative comments about identifiable individuals outside of the very senior leadership group.
While you can say more on Glassdoor about the most senior management in your company (like the CEO) than you can about other managers, remember that the general posting rules apply to anything you post online. If you divulge confidential information, spread damaging false information about your company and management, or use social media to bully someone online, you probably will violate your company’s policies – and possibly the law – and your employer can legitimately punish you for that if they find out that you did it.
Question #3: Are there legal protections in place for employees of non-US based employees of US-headquartered companies?
Legally, employees of US-headquartered companies who are working outside of the US are subject to the laws of the country in which they work and live and not the laws of the US.
Practically, many US-headquartered companies have employment policies that apply worldwide to all their employees, not just to their US employees, and those policies conform to US law. Remember that employment policies are often very general and subject to interpretation. Also remember that managers outside the US may well be making those interpretations and they will bring usual custom and practice in your country to that decision.
At Glassdoor, we take local custom and practice into account too. For instance because of local practice, on our LoveMondays.com.br site in Brazil, we don’t allow users to give their opinions about specific individuals even if they are senior management in their company even though we allow that on our Glassdoor.com and Western European local sites. We make that distinction based on custom and practice in Brazil even though it’s technically legal to give an opinion about senior management in a company there.
Question #4: Is reviewing your company on social media a fireable offense?
In general, no. For the most part, it is legal to post your opinion about your company, your workplace environment, and your senior management on social media. But you could be fired if you post confidential information, post false damaging facts about your company, or harass or defame someone at your company on social media and those actions violate your company’s employment policies.
If an employee feels that he/she has been improperly penalized for submitting a review on Glassdoor, what should they do? Do they have grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit?
Most companies provide for a right of appeal of any disciplinary action to more senior management personnel who are unrelated to the disciplinary decision. If you believe you have been unfairly disciplined, you should file an appeal. Be sure to organize your facts and, if you have a chance to state your side of the matter live, practice, practice, practice.
If you are fired for submitting a review on Glassdoor, consult a qualified employment law attorney to see if your company followed the law and all of their own policies in making that decision. If they didn’t you can sue for your back pay and your job.
You can also reach out to the National Labor Relations Board (the NLRB) for assistance. They are the administrative body charged with protecting workers who discuss wages and working conditions with their peers from employer retaliation. If you’ve been fired or disciplined for online speech of this kind, you can file a charge with NLRB against your employer and may be able to win reinstatement and/or back pay.
In our time with Glassdoor, we have not heard of a single case of an employee being fired for posting a review on Glassdoor. And Glassdoor fights to preserve the anonymity of our users as far as the Courts will hear us. We also try to help you avoid posting reviews that are likely to become a problem by laying down some ground rules. See our Community Guidelines for what’s ok and what isn’t.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This blog does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you need legal advice, please contact an attorney directly.