Want to pan your employer online? Be careful!

Your reviews of your employer may not be as anonymous as you think.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has affirmed an order directing Glassdoor, Inc., to disclose information about eight individuals who posted employer reviews on the site.

Here's how that happened. A federal grand jury is investigating an unnamed federal contractor that allegedly committed fraud against the Veterans Administration. The contractor was reviewed on Glassdoor by 125 employees, and eight of those reviewers made comments indicating that they might be aware of the alleged fraud. According to one review,

Highly inefficient system that focuses more on call quotas ([contractor] makes revenue by charging the VA for the calls that are made). There is no intention of designing a more efficient system to assist Veterans because that would reduce the number of calls made . . . which equals less revenue.

Another reviewer said "all they care about is numbers."

Glassdoor argued that providing the names of the employees who reviewed the contractor would violate the employees' First Amendment rights of associational privacy and anonymous speech. The court rejected both arguments.

First, the court said, the reviewers have to provide their email addresses when they post reviews, and they receive warnings that Glassdoor may have to disclose their information if it receives a subpoena or court order. The privacy policy (does anybody read those things?) also says that Glassdoor "will disclose data if we believe in good faith that such disclosure is necessary . . .."

Finding no associational privacy claim, the court said that posting anonymous reviews on a website is not like being a member of an organization "like the Jaycees, the Boy Scouts, or the NAACP." Moreover, the court found, based on the disclaimers on the website, that reviewers did not have a reasonable expectation of complete privacy.

Watch out! You're about to be exposed!

The court also found that the government was acting in good faith, was not "on an improper fishing expedition," and had narrowly tailored its request (seeking information only about the eight reviewers rather than all 125).

And this was probably the kicker:

The grand jury is conducting a criminal investigation into alleged fraud and abuse by a government contractor that administers veterans' healthcare programs. If the allegations are true, the subject is not only misusing taxpayer funds, it is deliberately making it more difficult for veterans to access healthcare. The government's interest in investigating such behavior is self-evident.

But, oh! Look at the information that Glassdoor will have to turn over:

internet protocol addresses and logs associated with all reviews including date and time of post, username, email address, resume, billing information such as first name, last name, credit card information, billing address, payment history, and any additional contact information available.

Yikes. Credit card information?

The moral: Be careful what you post on Glassdoor, as well as anywhere else on the internet. For their sakes, I sure hope these reviewers are employed somewhere else by now.

Image Credit: Woman from flickr, Creative Commons license, by Porsche Brosseau.

Robin Shea has 30 years' experience in employment litigation, including Title VII and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (including the Amendments Act). 
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