What to Do When Ex-Employees Damage Your Reputation

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As a business owner, you try to hire good people. You screen them, train them, encourage them, and do whatever you can to help them succeed and become an integral part of your business.

So it’s extremely frustrating when one of them posts scathing or disparaging material on an online review website after he or she has left your company. On a practical level, people who read those comments may form inaccurate opinions about your business, which could damage your reputation in the marketplace.

What should you do if this happens to you? Here are some suggestions.

1. Don’t overreact.

The absolute worst thing you can do is to fly off the handle upon reading a disgruntled employee’s review. Responding with inflammatory or condescending prose, contacting the person directly, or filing a lawsuit will only serve to encourage the offender while simultaneously exacerbating the negative image of your company. It’s okay to be angry about this type of review — but it’s unwise to let your emotions get the best of you.

2. Flag the review if possible.

Many review sites, like Google+ or Glass Door, have mechanisms which allow employers to identify reviews which they feel may be inaccurate. Usually, this is a link next to the review labeled “Flag as inappropriate” or “Problem with this review?” Selecting this link is an easy way to demonstrate to the cyberworld that the reviewer is disgruntled. Just don’t make a habit of flagging every negative review about your company — otherwise, you’ll be “Flagged” by the review site itself.

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3. Respond evenly and clearly.

Taking the high road is always the best option when responding to disgruntled employees. Use calm, neutral language, express concern for the former employee’s plight, formally state the relevant policy regarding the topic in question, and point out that privacy laws prohibit you from discussing internal company matters. Finally, don’t get into a back-and-forth response war with the reviewer; that can only make you look bad.

4. Address fraudulent claims.

If the allegations being issued by the disgruntled employee are patently and objectively false, you do have some legal remedies. You can seek out legal advice about filing a libel lawsuit, notify the review sites involved to report the deceptive information, and possibly even contact the Federal Trade Commission about the review site publishing fraudulent reviews.

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5. Be proactive with positive reviews.

Another tried-and-true strategy for dealing with negative reviews is to drown them out. In other words, find ways to solicit positive reviews about your business from customers, peers, clients, or even other employees. The more glowing reviews you receive, the more that the disgruntled employee’s remarks appear isolated and irrelevant.

6. Look inward.

Sometimes, a disgruntled employee is just a jerk. But often, there may be a legitimate root cause of the person’s ire. Though you don’t have to acknowledge that the ex-employee is right, it would behoove you to take a closer look at the issue(s) which were brought up in the negative review. That way, you stand a better chance of avoiding future bad reviews by disgruntled employees. It may be a matter of clarifying a policy or improving communication within your workplace.

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No business owner likes to have his or her reputation take a hit — especially from a former worker. But keeping a level head and addressing negative reviews promptly can go a long way toward repairing any damage your business’s reputation may incur.

Chris Martin has written about a wide variety of workplace, entrepreneur, and small business topics.

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