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What to do when ex-employees damage your reputation

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by Staff Writer

An upset employee holds a box with his things under one arm. He's talking loudly and gesturing with his free hand. Three yellow lightening bolts icons come out from his open mouth.

This post has been modified to reflect new information since its original publication.

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

You focus on employee retention like your life depends on it.

So, it’s extremely frustrating when one of them posts scathing or disparaging comments online after he or she leaves your company.

It can take years for you to establish a reputation for having excellent products and services, but a single disgruntled employee can ruin that in a matter of seconds.

On one hand, people who read your ex-employee’s online comments may form inaccurate opinions about your business, which could damage your reputation in the marketplace. On the other hand, an ex-employee who damages your reputation can prevent top talent from wanting to join your business in the future.

Disgruntled workers can leave a real stain on your reputation. What’s more, it can be difficult to recover from such a blow to your image. As such, you’ll need to be hyper-vigilant when it comes to ex-employees and the things that they say about your business online.

So, before we get into what to look out for and how to handle these types of employees, we should look at some preventive techniques so you can avoid this type of situation altogether.

Prevent it before it happens

You can help prevent ex-employees from lashing out against your business and ruining its reputation well before they even become ex-employees.

To protect your own interests, you should have a “prevention plan” in place that will ensure that no employee leaves the company feeling slighted.

This plan should start when you are onboarding new employees.

Here are a few steps you can follow to make this easier:

Avoid any confusion about what’s expected

Clarity is paramount from the onset of employment. Clearly outline job duties, performance expectations, and the consequences of not meeting these standards.

Give all new hires documentation that clearly outlines the above.

This foundation allows for a straightforward conversation if termination becomes necessary, as both parties are aware of the expectations from the beginning.

Work to avoid termination

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Before considering termination, explore all possible avenues to help the employee improve.

This includes setting clear expectations, providing regular feedback, and offering additional training or coaching to employees.

A performance improvement plan (PIP) can be a structured way to identify areas for improvement and set achievable goals.

Document all efforts to assist the employee, as this can be important if the employee challenges the termination.

Be reasonable

Handle the termination process with discretion and respect. If possible, schedule the meeting at a time that minimizes embarrassment or disruption for the departing employee and the rest of the team.

Always have a witness present during the termination meeting to help avoid any misunderstandings or disputes.

You should also handle any employee severances with great care, so they are not motivated to retaliate against your business.

Never let an employee go without warning—this can incite them to air their grievances online and/or seek legal action.

The way you approach this situation can shape the image that your soon-to-be-ex-employees have of your business and lessen the chances that they will tarnish your reputation in retaliation.

Now that we’ve addressed the reason you’re reading this post, let’s talk about the unique scenarios you might encounter when letting someone go.

Different ways ex-employees can hurt your reputation

The rise of the “internet review era” has given disgruntled ex-employees a platform through which they can voice their grievances with your business and, ultimately, damage your reputation.

When your former employees are looking to get their opinions across to the masses, there are several tactics they can use to retaliate against your business.

Here are a few common ones that you should look out for:

Giving poor LinkedIn references

Encompassing a massive member base, LinkedIn has become the place for professionals looking to network with others—and the place where your ex-employees can share negative thoughts about your business.

This platform makes it easy for prospective employees to find those who have worked for you in the past and ask them about their experiences at your business. These private exchanges allow your ex-employees to share their true thoughts and opinions, however negative they may be.

Leaving bad reviews on Glassdoor

Online company review site Glassdoor has become the bane of existence for many businesses, who often see their Glassdoor pages inundated with negative reviews and ratings from ex-employees.

These individuals can use this platform to share what it was like to work for your business and highlight other grievances about you, your managerial staff, and even your business structure. And though Glassdoor requires its reviewers to create accounts before posting, your ex-employees’ comments will appear on your business’ page anonymously.

This makes it easy for disgruntled former employees to attack your business. Enough of these bad comments can do some real damage to your reputation.

Slamming you on social media

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Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter (X) are favorites among the community of ex-employees looking to badmouth their former employers.

Using hashtags (think #hatemyboss, #bademployer, and #hatemyjob), your ex-staff members can get the word out to any other user that they aren’t happy with their experiences at your company.

Bad comments spread more quickly than good ones, so social media can make a swift impact when it comes to your online reputation.

Posting other malicious reviews

Ex-employees can negatively impact your business’s reputation by sharing particularly malicious reviews on the leading online review platforms.

You must remain vigilant when it comes to these comments, which can be much more harmful than those posted by consumers or even competitors.

Your ex-employees leave your company with knowledge of inner company workings and other information they can share with countless others online.

You can easily spot these malicious reviews by looking for several characteristics.

If you see comments that feature industry vocabulary or other terms used at your business, then you’ll know that an ex-employee wrote that review. Also, angry former employees won’t usually be open to discussion when you respond to their negative reviews.

What should I do if this happens to my business?

When ex-employees start to damage your reputation, you’ll need to nip the situation in the bud before it makes a lasting impact on your business. Thankfully, there are a number of strategies that you can use to rectify the situation and turn your reputation around. Here are some suggestions:

Stay calm

The absolute worst thing you can do is to fly off the handle upon reading a disgruntled employee’s comments about you and your business.

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 the knock to your reputation—but it’s unwise to let your emotions get the best of you.

Flag negative reviews for removal

Many review sites, like Indeed or Glassdoor, have mechanisms that allow employers to identify reviews 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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When flagging isn’t enough to remove these negative reviews, you can also submit a written request to the website where your ex-employees posted them. In your letter, you should explain why you want the materials removed, mention any site policies the review has violated, and disclose what you have already done to petition for the removal of the content.

If the allegations being issued by a disgruntled employee are patently and objectively false, you do have some legal remedies.

You can seek out legal advice about taking legal action and notify the review sites involved to report the deceptive information.

Respond to the ex-employee’s comments

Taking the high road is always the best option when responding to disgruntled employees.

  1. Start by thanking them for taking the time to write a review, whether you agree with what they said or not.
  1. In the remainder of your response, you should 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.
  1. Finally, don’t get into a back-and-forth response war with the reviewer; that can only make you look bad. Keeping a level head and addressing the situation with maturity can go a long way towards repairing your reputation.

Increase your 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 ex-employee’s remarks will appear isolated and irrelevant.

Make your own adjustments

Sometimes, a disgruntled employee is just angry and spiteful. But often, there may be a legitimate root cause of the person’s resentment.

Though you don’t have to acknowledge that the ex-employee is right, it would be wise of you to take a closer look at the issue(s) he or she brought up in the negative review.

The problem may be a matter of clarifying a certain policy or improving communication within your workplace.

This is also called a damage-control strategy, meaning you make adjustments that will help you stand a better chance of avoiding future bad reviews by angry former employees.

It’s all about being open, dissecting the words used by ex-employees, and having the guts to face the potential missteps your company or management ignored to cause the backlash.

Monitor your online reputation

Monitoring the internet for negative reviews is one of the best things you can do to protect your reputation from the wrath of former employees. You should regularly check all of the most visited company review sites, including Glassdoor, Indeed, and Jobitorial.

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Formal reviews aren’t the only method that ex-employees can use to vilify your business, however.

It’s crucial that you also monitor news and blog posts about you—former employees can make disparaging comments on platforms such as these.

Try using online monitoring tools to keep track of what’s being said about your business online. Google Alerts, Trackur, and Mention are a few that’ll help you stay in the loop.

The bottom line

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 comments and reviews promptly can go a long way toward repairing any damage your business’s reputation may incur.

If you need help fixing a reputation that an ex-employee ruined, why not let ReputationDefender help?

One of the fastest ways to get started is to grab your free and instant reputation report card. It’s a resource that will allow you to see exactly how others see your reputation online. It can take any confusion you have about what you need to focus on and give you clarity.

Then, schedule a free consultation and get the personalized advice you need to take back your reputation.