Defamation at work is a common occurrence. It can cast doubt on a person’s character and result in the loss of promotions or bonuses. It can make the victim’s work chances challenging in the future. But with the advice of a lawyer, you must establish the best strategy to prove that defamation occurred. This article shows how suing for defamation of character at work works; basically every detail you should know.
What Does Suing for Defamation of Character at Work Mean?
False statements about an employee, also known as workplace defamation, are a legal concern that can make it difficult for the individual to keep their present job or get a new one. This is true for all employees, whether they are present or past. The most prevalent instance of workplace defamation occurs when a potential employer seeks a reference from a candidate’s current or past boss or employer in order to verify the candidate’s background.
If an employer or previous employer lies about a candidate in a job reference and the statement impairs the candidate’s chances of getting hired or damages their reputation, the affected party may have a defamation action.
Another form of employment defamation is when an employer makes defamatory statements in the workplace, resulting in the employee’s dismissal from the company. This is also true for scenarios where defamatory statements are made by someone else, such as a coworker. If the statements have created such a hostile work environment that the employee has no alternative but to resign, the individual should speak with an attorney to see if a wrongful termination lawsuit is possible.
How Is Suing for Defamation of Character at Work Proven?
In order to win a defamation case in court, the plaintiff must show five vital elements of the case’s facts. These are the elements:
#1. The Employer Made a Defamatory Statement:
A statement is generally considered defamatory if it damages a former employee’s reputation by decreasing their public opinion. If a remark prevents other parties from associating or dealing with the employee, it may also be considered defamatory.
#2. The Defamatory Statement Was Made Public by the Employer:
If the defamatory statement made by the employer was made public, for example beyond the walls of the work space, then suing for defamation of character is also likely.
#3. The Employer’s Assertion Was False:
“Publication can be verbal or nonverbal.” In general, it is the former employee’s responsibility to prove that a defamatory comment is false. They must present specific evidence showing their former employer’s comments were unfounded.
#4. The Employer Was at Fault in Making the False Statement:
The amount to which the employer knew their statement was untrue determines the fault that an employee must prove.
#5. The Employee’s Reputation Was Harmed by the Misleading Statement:
An employee must show that their injuries would not have happened if their employer had not made false defamatory statements against them.
Suing for Defamation of Character at Work: Workplace Defamation of Character Examples
In the workplace, defamation can manifest itself in a variety of ways. When it comes to the defamatory comment itself, it’s less about who makes it and more about whether or not it’s true and how it affects the employee.
The following are some anecdotal examples of workplace character defamation:
1. Dante stole from the company when he was employed there, a former supervisor informs a prospective employer. Dante, on the other hand, did not steal anything. The prospective employer decides to select a different candidate as a result of the supervisor’s statement.
2. Dante is denied the job for which he was otherwise qualified; a coworker informs their boss that Dante lied on his employment application. As a result, the supervisor launches an investigation, and Dante is placed on paid leave for several weeks while the investigation is conducted. Dante, on the other hand, never lied on her job application.
3. Dante’s ex-wife tells a prospective employer that Dante has untrustworthy conduct. None of these things are true, but the employer uses this knowledge to decide not to hire Dante.
Dante has been the victim of defamatory claims in all three of these cases, which have harmed her career prospects, harmed her reputation, and caused her injury.
Basically, the most common form of defamation in the workplace is slander. Slander is the term for uttered slanderous statements, as previously stated. It is defined as the “publishing” of defamatory words orally in front of a third person. Slander in the workplace might take the form of:
- Any comment implying that the victim is unable to perform their job or office duties;
- Any claim that the slandered person lacks integrity; and/or
- Statements that harm the slandered individual’s professional reputation.
When a former employee discloses inaccurate information about their previous employer, this is an example of employee defamation of employers. If the employer’s reputation is harmed as a result of the false statements, the employer may sue the former employee for defamation. State legislation, however, will differ substantially in terms of whether or not this is permitted.
Are There Any Exceptions or Defenses to Defamation in the Workplace?
Defamation defenses are divided into two categories. There are two types of defenses: common law and constitutional.
Defamation defenses under common law include:
- Substantial Truth: If the statement was true, there would be no foundation for a defamation action. The defendant, on the other hand, bears the burden of establishing that the statement was true.
- Absolute Privileges: Some situations rely so strongly on free speech that the law protects people from being sued for defamation. In government procedures, such privileges may arise. and
- Qualified Privileges: These privileges are predicated on the social usefulness of safeguarding communications made in conjunction with the speaker’s moral, legal, or social obligations. A former employer might disclose information on an employee to a potential employer for example.
Defamation is likewise protected under the United States Constitution. The availability of constitutional defenses will be determined by the victim’s status:
- Public Officials: Politicians and other public officials cannot sue for defamation unless the originator of the statements knew or should have known they were untrue.
- Public Figures: Public figures, such as celebrities, cannot sue for defamation unless the author knew or should have known the claims were untrue; and
- Private Persons: Every day persons can sue for defamation and seek redress for harm to their reputation and privacy. This holds true whether or not the statements’ authors knew or should have known they were untrue.
To recap, truth is always a defamation defense. If the statement in question is false, then it is considered defamation. If the statement is true, even if it is unattractive, it is not defamation.
A manager slandering employees would constitute an exception to employment defamation. This could include situations where an employer provides a negative reference. Many states provide protection to employers who give negative references in good faith.
Employers who supply misleading information on purpose or act recklessly with respect to the truth, on the other hand, may face a defamation action.
Suing an Employer for Character Defamation
It’s not easy to sue an employer for defamation, and getting started usually necessitates engaging an employment lawyer.
To sue an employer, you must have been publicly vilified by them. This typically indicates they told someone about your character assassination with the sole aim of having others hear about it and spread the message.
Furthermore, suing an employer necessitates that all of the above points be accurate.
Your lawsuit will not go far if they presented their defamation as fact and you had credible proof or testimonials. It also had to be maliciously destructive and not involve privileged information of any kind.
This includes details such as criminal conduct performed while on the job.
When asked, former employers are usually compelled to share this information.
If a personal attorney is inadequate to prosecute a defamation lawsuit in the workplace, you’ll almost always want to hire an employment lawyer.
Employment lawyers specialize in workplace legal action and can tell you whether or not your claim is valid. However, employment attorneys are used by both employees and employers, so be aware that their experience could be used on either side of the aisle in a court dispute.
False Accusations by Employees
Making a false accusation against another employee or employer constitutes defamation in and of itself.
While many words might be hurtful, it is critical to ensure that you have credible facts before leveling an accusation. If an employee files a defamation lawsuit without proof, the employer may be justified in terminating the employee immediately.
It also contributes to a dismal environment at work.
In libel and slander cases, the accuser frequently asserts that the false charge has caused them emotional harm.
Meanwhile, suing a former employer can be difficult since former coworkers may still be employed and reject testimonies, causing personal ties to suffer.
This may result in monetary compensation for antidepressants or other prescriptions that the victim alleges they required to deal with the emotional trauma.
However, when fraudulent claims against them are thrown out in court, corporations and fellow employees frequently counter-sue for restitution.
Are There Any Defenses Available to My Employer?
Yes. Defamation can be defended by your employer in four different ways. The following are examples: (1) privilege; (2) consent; (3) truth; and (4) opinion:
There are two types of privileges that an employer might use to defend against defamation. Even if the published comment is made with malice toward you, an absolute privilege allows your employer to be fully free of liability. Remarks made during official processes (such as a lawsuit), arbitration hearings, or statements made during a legally necessary background check of a potential employee, or in any other governmental proceeding, are all entirely privileged.
A qualified privilege protects your employer only if the comment is made without “malice,” or malice toward you. In general, evaluations or appraisals, investigation findings, references, counseling or warnings, grievance adjustment discussions, and discipline or termination letters are all qualifiedly privileged statements.
If an employee offers his or her employer “consent” to make a statement, the employer has absolute authority to do so.
A perfect defense to defamation is a honest remark.
As previously stated, an unfavorable opinion is not defamation. To assess whether a remark is an assertion of fact or an opinion, courts ask a range of questions. The speaker’s statement should include the phrases “I felt” or “I think,” as well as who the comment was addressed to and the context or goal of the communication.
What Can I Do if I Believe I Have a Defamation Lawsuit Against My Employer or a Coworker?
Determine whether the employer is making a defamatory comment or simply expressing his or her viewpoint. Then figure out to who the statement is addressed. It is more likely to be defamatory if the statement is made to a future potential employer.
It is sometimes enough to send a letter to your former employer, requesting that he stop violating California law. You can, however, file a complaint with the California Labor Commissioner or go to court immediately. Individuals convicted of defamation may be liable for “triple damages” under a California Labor Code clause (1050) designed to discourage companies from “blacklisting” former employees looking for new positions.