All publicity is good publicity? Worker unfairly dismissed over poor Google reviews

Employer asserted reviews were 'very damaging' to reputation

All publicity is good publicity? Worker unfairly dismissed over poor Google reviews

In a recent case, the Fair Work Commission considered whether negative Google reviews could constitute a valid reason to terminate an employee. Although the employer alleged that the reviews were “very damaging to the brand and profitability of the business”, the Commission was not persuaded that they constituted a “sound, defensible or well-founded” reason for the worker’s dismissal.

The employee worked at a pest management company, commencing her role in October 2019. She gave evidence that, in June 2021, she received a termination letter, which cited her “disagreements and mannerism against customers”, together with two poor Google reviews, as reasons for her dismissal. Two months later, the employee received a second, more extensive termination letter, which she alleged was “fabricated” by the company in an attempt to bolster her dismissal’s legitimacy. The employee applied to the Fair Work Commission, seeking financial compensation.

The Hearing

The company listed several reasons for the worker’s dismissal, including her alleged misconduct, refusal to follow instructions, and damage to its reputation. In particular, the company relied on two negative Google reviews it received, which it submitted related to the worker’s conduct and could be “very damaging” to its profitability, especially in the context of its highly competitive industry and the negative impact of COVID-19.

The employee asserted that the first Google review related to the customer’s technical service experience, an area for which she was not responsible. She also submitted that the second Google review was posted because the customer could not obtain an immediate booking with a technician, which was another matter beyond her control.

Why the Commission found in the employee’s favour

The Commission agreed with the employee’s submissions, finding that neither the Google reviews nor other unsubstantiated reasons relied upon established misconduct, nor a valid reason for her dismissal.

The Commission also noted that the worker was not warned or provided an opportunity to respond before her termination. It commented that, although the company was a small business, it was not permitted to dismiss the worker in a way that was “entirely devoid of fairness”.

With this, the Commission deemed the employee’s dismissal unfair and ordered that the company pay $6,762.12 in compensation.

Key Takeaways

  • Where a company receives negative reviews, an employer must show that those reviews are directly tied to a specific employee to justify dismissal
  • Employers should ensure that an employee is adequately warned of performance or misconduct issues before a decision is made regarding termination
  • When dismissing a worker, employers should ensure they comply with the Fair Work Act or the Small Business Fair Dismissal Code
  • Failure to afford procedural fairness to an employee may render their dismissal unfair

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