Canada: Employer Review Websites: How To Manage Your Reputation Online

Labour, Employment and Human Rights Bulletin
Last Updated: March 26 2019
Article by Aya Barbach

It is now common to rate the people we meet and places we visit — your ride share driver, last night's date, the corner restaurant, or your family doctor. At some point, we have all been asked to grade an experience based on our degree of satisfaction.

The rating phenomenon is not exclusively for consumers. Employees can now rate their employers on websites such as RateMyEmployer.ca and Glassdoor.ca. This has also led to new debates before the courts. Recently, the Superior Court of Quebec considered whether negative comments published on the website RateMyEmployer.ca might be defamation.1 The Superior Court of Ontario ordered Glassdoor to disclose the personal information of an individual who had posted defamatory comments on its website.2

This bulletin provides some practical tips to assist employers in better managing their reputation online. These can be summed up to three action items: prevent, evaluate, and react.

Prevent

Contributors to these rating websites are sometimes dissatisfied employees. Even though their ratings on these websites may not necessarily reflect reality, potential candidates may use them as a reference. As a result, employers may want to consider implementing preventative measures, including:

  • Technological presence and monitoring. Employers should ensure that they have tools in place to monitor comments made about them online (for example, Google Alerts). This will help employers to identify and react quickly to defamatory or unauthorized remarks.
  • Review of internal policies. Employers should review their policies about employees' online behaviour to ensure that, among other things, they address the use of online rating websites.
  • Employment separation agreements. Agreements should generally contain provisions aimed at protecting the employer's reputation by prohibiting, for example, the individual from making negative or disparaging comments about the employer and its employees.

Evaluate

Generally speaking, employees may not publicly express unfavourable opinions about their employers based on claims that are false, unfounded, distorted or exaggerated. Consequently, an employer must evaluate the comments to determine if they constitute a wrongful act against its reputation. Here are several factors that the court will consider in determining whether a comment constitutes a wrongful act. Employers should consider these same factors3:

  • Nature and frequency. Generally, statements made with an authoritative tone or out-of-context, even if true on their own, may be considered false statements. The number of comments made may also be a factor in determining whether there is a damage to or intent to damage the employer's reputation. Lastly, the fact that a statement was deleted is not sufficient to rule out any misconduct.
  • Choice of platform. The type of website on which the statements were posted can affect the assessment of their severity. Statements about an employer which are posted on specialized websites (for example, RateMyEmployer or Glassdoor) will be considered more serious than those posted on a general website. Employers should be aware these specialized rating websites often have content policies.
  • Date of statements. The employer must act quickly on allegedly wrongful comments or ratings to show it was diligent in the situation.

React

When faced with defamatory statements on a rating website, employers may want to take measures to remedy the situation. Here are some examples of remedial measures that may be appropriate depending on the circumstances:

  • Identity of the author. If the employer knows the identity of the employee who wrote the defamatory statements, disciplinary measures may be imposed depending on the circumstances. If the person is a former employee, an action for defamation might be considered.
  • Seeking the author's identity. If the employer is unable to identify the author of the defamatory statements, the employer might be able to obtain a court order requiring the website to disclose information necessary to identify the author.
  • Action against the rating website. Lastly, depending on the context and applicable law, the employer might have access to a specific remedy against the rating website. For example, in Quebec, under the Act to Establish a Legal Framework for Information Technology, a rating website may be liable if it is aware that the statements are being used to carry out illegal activity.

Over time, employer rating websites will likely become more sophisticated and increase in number. It is important for employers to remain up-to-date with this new reality in order to manage not only the negative effects that can result from it, but also to learn to use it to their advantage as a recruitment tool.

Footnote

[1] Digital Shape Technologies Inc. v. Walker, 2018 QCCS 4374.

[2] BeneFACT Consulting Group Inc. v. Glassdoor Inc., 2018 ONSC 3123.

[3] Digital Shape Technologies Inc. v. Walker, 2018 QCCS 4374.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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