What is Defamation of Character in the Workplace?

Understanding Defamation of Character at Work

When you work with people, there are always going to be good days and bad days. However, what happens when you experience only bad days? What if your co-workers make up rumors about you or treat you like you’re not good enough? If you find yourself in this situation, it’s time to take action. You may be dealing with defamation of character in the workplace—and that needs to be addressed.

The definition of defamation varies by state, but two factors are common. An untrue statement was made about you and that statement was published or spoken to a third party, causing you harm.

What is defamation of character in the workplace? Defamation of character takes place when your co-workers disparage your reputation by publishing false statements about you. For example, if someone tells everyone else in the office that you were terminated from your previous job because you stole money, you may have a case of defamation. Defamation is more than an insult or embarrassment – it can affect your chances of getting future employment and damage your professional reputation.

Furthermore, defamation doesn’t just apply to the workplace; it’s important to remember that this applies if someone spread false rumors about you at school as well.

Workplace Defamation Regarding Employers

Workplace defamation is another way that the law protects employers against false or other negative information about them. It is not okay when this information is being disseminated to their customers, clients, potential employees, and vendors.

In other words, it’s a formal legal reason for stopping someone from saying something nasty about your company. This is especially if it can be proven that it isn’t true.

Employers might need this protection if an employee were to be accused of lying about them to a potential or current client. Also, if the said employee were to try and convince other employees at the same company that the employer was treating them unfairly.

If such an accusation were made public, many people would start believing it. Especially if it’s a serious accusation. In such a case, it would be very difficult for the company’s management to stop the spread of negative information before it became overwhelming.

How to Prove Workplace Defamation

To prove defamation, you need to show that

  1. The information was false and not of public concern;
  2. It directly identified you as an individual;
  3. It was published to a third party, and
  4. It damaged your reputation or harmed you in some way.

 

It is important to note that simply disagreeing with someone doesn’t count as defamation. You need to show that the information being discussed was false for there to be grounds for legal action – otherwise, anyone with a dissenting opinion would be able to sue anyone who disagreed with them.

Proving Defamation

To prove defamation, it’s important to be able to distinguish between your professional and personal life. If you get fired from a previous job and decide to open up about this fact during an interview at another company, you may not have a case because the hiring manager knows that people lose their jobs in other industries.

On the other hand, if you’re not comfortable sharing this information and you speak poorly about a previous employer during an interview, and that boss finds out and speaks poorly about you to other companies—defamation may have occurred.

Additionally, it’s important to gather as much evidence as possible to prove defamation of character.

Three Types of Defamation

There are different types of defamation that you need to know about if you want to pursue legal action against someone for it. The two most common types are slander and libel.

Slander

Slander generally refers to verbal defamation, whereas libel generally refers to published defamation. It is easier to prove than libel. This is why it is the most common type of defamation that you might see in the workplace.

Libel

Libel generally refers to published defamation, whereas slander generally refers to verbal defamation. Slander is easier to prove than libel. This is why it is the more commonly seen type of employee lawsuit involving defamation.

There are numerous defenses that you can use against someone who is bringing a lawsuit for defamation of character. The most common is truth, but if it can be proved that the information publicized was true, then there would be no grounds for legal action to begin with.

Another defense against libel or slander charges involving defamation is consent. If you have consented to the release of the published or verbal information, then it is not considered slander or libel. In most places, if you have agreed to talk about someone else – even if your comments are negative ones – then it is considered a form of consent.

Privilege

The last defense available against defamation charges is a privilege. Privilege refers to any information, whether true or false, that is presented as evidence in a trial.

Examples include those things said by witnesses during the court process. In addition, those remarks were made by attorneys to support their client’s case. In most cases, anyone who has been called to the witness stand cannot be charged with libel/slander for anything they have said because of this privilege.

If you are accused of defamation in the workplace, your best defense is to prove that what has been said by you is true. If that cannot be done, then it’s time to talk with an attorney. They can help you get through this troubling period. Whether the information was published or not, even an accusation like this can cause irreparable harm to your reputation.

Employees Can Be Sued for Defamation

Employees can be sued for slander or libel. That is if they falsely accuse another individual of committing an act that can cause harm to that individual’s reputation.

If the person is a public figure, they must prove that the employee purposefully made the statement. Then, it will be considered defamation. Privilege is used as a defense if the information is presented during court proceedings.

Truth is also used as a defense if it can be proven that what was said about another individual was true. Consent is given as a defense if it can be proven that the accused individual is permitted to discuss them publicly or privately.

Employees Suing for Defamation

An employee may use consent as a defense. If they can prove that the accused individual is permitted to discuss them publicly or privately.

In most states, the truth will be given as a defense if an allegation against a public figure cannot be proven to have been false. The privilege of witnesses and the privilege of reporting criminal or civil proceedings will also often be used as a defense if the information is presented during court proceedings.

Falsehood and intent of publishing information will not be used as a defense because it is already included within defamation.

Employee Suing Another Employee

An employee sued for defamation caused by comments made by another employee must prove that what was said about them was false. They also must prove they suffered harm from the published information.

If the person being talked about is a public figure there is an additional layer. They must also prove that the accused individual purposely made the statement with the knowledge that it was false. In some states, consent can be used as a defense if it is proven that the accused individual is permitted to talk about them publicly or privately.

Privilege will be used as a defense if the information is presented during court proceedings. Truth can also be used as a defense. It has to be proven that what was said about another individual was true.

The privilege of witnesses and the privilege of reporting criminal or civil proceedings will also often be used as a defense. The information must be presented during court proceedings. Falsehood and intent of publishing information will not be used as a defense because it is already included within defamation.

Those being sued for defamation can use truth as a defense if it is proven that what was said about another individual was true. In some states, consent can also be used as a defense. That is if it is proven that the accused individual is permitted to talk about them.

When to Contact a Lawyer

A lawyer can help you determine whether or not your claim has merit and help you file the claim with the court if appropriate.  Your attorney may also be able to help you gather evidence and witnesses to testify about the false statements.

If you believe that you have a case for defamation against your employer, contact a lawyer who specializes in employment law today.  Your attorney can help represent you through every step of the legal process.

In addition, if you feel you are being falsely accused of defamation, contact a lawyer. A legal representation can give you guidance on how to proceed. Either way, legal representation is important to receiving the best outcome!



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