Employees v. Employers on LinkedIn

July 23, 2009

Current Employment recently ran an interesting article: “Employers: The LinkedIn Recommendation is Not for You.”  The premise of the post is that the reviews that both prior and current employers are leaving for employees on sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook.  For employment lawyers, the problem (or the benefit — depending on whose side you are on) immediately jumps out:

Employees get terminated. A lot. And a lot of those terminations are based on performance.  As a plaintiffs’ attorney, the best evidence you have of a wrongful or discriminatory termination is documentation establishing that the “pretext” for the termination (the performance problem) is false.  Suddenly LinkedIn is in play.  Since the vast majority of reviews on LinkedIn are positive, any and all employment lawyers with plaintiff clients should be scouring the site for positive reviews from the same managers that term’ed the employee for “performance” problems.

Tim Eavenson, the author of the Current Employment article sums it up quite well:

This is just the Web 2.0 version of advice that management lawyers have been giving forever – be very careful about praising your exiting employees.  I know it sounds harsh, but glowing praise (particularly where it is undeserved) can really be a problem.  If an employment case goes to trial, you will be in the uncomfortable position of having to explain to a jury what happened in the hours or days between the writing the amazing recommendation and the time you canned the employee for poor performance.

Tim then poses the question of whether the recommendation feature on LinkedIn is worth anything.  He offers several suggestions and I agree: since anyone can make a recommendation, you can get recommendations from co-workers, friends, buddies, company insiders, or anyone else who might have a foot-in-the-door.  You can also get recommendations from prominent people you may have not worked but have interacted with: committees, boards, groups, clubs, etc.

The take-away: Employers – be careful; be very careful. Employees – a good-word or a thumbs-up from a respected colleague or member of the community can be the difference between an interview and a resume sent straight to the paper shredder.

As with all social media, the feature works better when more people use it.  And I encourage you to do that. When you have a reason to leave a recommendation or describe an experience or if someone requests your assistance, take that request seriously and give some thought into what you write.  As more and more employers turn to social media sites for background information on potential employees, this accurate data becomes invaluable.

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Legitimate LinkedIn Reviews

July 7, 2009

Corporate attorneys are advising supervisors and managers to be careful when posting overly-positive or potentially misleading employee endorsements on LinkedIn. The big concern is that crafty employee plaintiffs’ counsel will use LinkedIn reviews much in the same way that they currently use positive reviews found in the employee’s written file: to establish that their client was wrongfully discharged or fired as a result of discrimination.

Counsel who represent employers have all come across glowing employee reviews that discuss, at length, the superior qualities and work ethic of an employee who, within weeks of the review, is fired for poor performance or insubordination.

As described in the National Law Journal’s article:

Plaintiffs’ lawyers, they fear, are scouring these sites, looking for evidence to dispute firings, as most LinkedIn recommendations are positive. So if a supervisor claims that an employee was let go due to performance problems but gave a rave review about him or her on LinkedIn — that, the lawyers stress, won’t look so good.

It is a valid point.  Employment lawyers and H.R. personnel are constantly instructing management and supervisors to conduct regular, accurate, performance reviews.  Reviews posted on LinkedIn need to be equally accurate.  A good practice employers might implement is to tell their supervisors and managers not to post reviews, positive or negative; according to Carolyn Plump, a partner at Philadelphia’s Mitts Milavec, as quoted in the National Law Journal:

Generally, my advice is that I think employers are often better served by merely stating dates of employment, positions with the company and salary, and staying away from much more because there are so many potential ramifications if they say something.

Of course, like most stories, this one has both sides.  The example cited by the National Law Journal is that of a supervisor who is constantly leaving negative reviews.  While a single negative review might be offered as evidence of discrimination, counsel for the management could offer evidence of all the other negative reviews to establish that the supervisor was not singling out a particular gender, race, or nationality.

So what is the conclusion?  It is the always the same conclusion.  Conduct regular, accurate, performance appraisals and enforce your existing policies indiscriminately.

Related Post:
The LinkedIn Bible: If Your Profession is Your Religion, This May Be for You