Zuru -v- Glassdoor case study
Glassdoor is a US-based website operating in 20 countries across the US, Europe, Asia and Oceania where current and former employees are able to review their experience of working at a company anonymously. Current and prospective employees, as well as customers can view these reviews.
The Glassdoor business model
Glassdoor’s business model focuses on the anonymity of the reviewers, which encourages reviewers to be candid. Unhappy employees or ex-employees are more likely to leave a review, and they will be more confident in leaving an adverse review if they know it is anonymous.
Whilst reviews may assist prospective employees in making an informed decision, negative feedback left on Glassdoor could deter new staff from joining companies, as well as seriously impacting client and public opinion. Employers are unable to alter or remove reviews, although they can write a response to any review. They can ask Glassdoor to remove those reviews which, for example, contain false information or violate Glassdoor’s community guidelines (which are set out on their website), but the decision whether to remove reviews is within Glassdoor’s sole discretion.
Moreover, there is no requirement for reviewers to prove they are or have been employed by the company they are reviewing so competitors or unaffiliated individuals could theoretically leave negative reviews, which companies might struggle to have removed.
Companies may find themselves spending time, money and resources trying to combat negative publicity and perception. Customers and clients may also distance themselves from companies subject to negative reviews, leaving risk of substantial loss.
What can employers subject to defamatory reviews do?
A court in California has recently ordered Glassdoor to disclose the identity of users who had left several negative reviews against Zuru, a New Zealand-based toymaker.
The toymaker claimed that the negative reviews were false and had that it had suffered loss in relation to “money, time, and resources in combatting the negative publicity, negative perception, and harm to reputation that the reviews have caused”. Zuru required the identity of the reviewers to be released in order to pursue a claim for defamation against the reviewers in New Zealand. Glassdoor argued that the negative reviews left were not defamatory but constituted opinion, which it argued was “not subject to defamation liability”.
The presiding judge, in ordering the disclosure to be made, stated that “Zuru’s defamation claim, while plausible, almost surely won’t make it off the ground without Glassdoor’s help. Glassdoor knows who wrote the reviews, Zuru doesn’t. And if Glassdoor doesn’t identify the reviewers, Zuru can’t sue them and will be left without a means by which to ‘vindicate [its] good name’.”
Glassdoor have since released a statement saying it was “deeply disappointed” with the decision and that they fight “vigorously to protect and defend the rights of [their] users to share their opinions and speak freely and authentically about their workplace experiences.”
Time will tell if more companies will now seek to expose the identity of those leaving negative, anonymous reviews on Glassdoor and other review platforms.