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What is Employer Defamation?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 20 November 2016
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Employer defamation typically refers to some type of defamation of character that occurs in a workplace and involves an employee and the employer for whom he or she works. This type of defamation can occur in either direction and may involve the employer making libelous or slanderous claims regarding the employee or the employee defaming the character of the employer instead. Defamation of this type can be quite difficult to prove, and typically requires that it was made in writing with the written statement used as evidence, or the testimony of someone who directly heard the defamatory statement. Employer defamation is typically a civil case and if proven can often lead to fines, termination, and other actions.

The term “employer defamation” does not necessarily imply the direction of the defamation, and it can either occur from or against an employer. When coming from an employer, the statement may be made to other employees or to people outside of the company, which typically provides a stronger defamation case. In the other instance, an employee may make defamatory claims to other co-workers, to managers above the employer, or even in public forums such as on the Internet. Either type of employer defamation can be quite damaging and may result in severe consequences.

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Employer defamation typically occurs in one of two major forms: slander or libel. Slander is a type of defamation that is spoken and transitory, while libel occurs in a written or more permanent form. In order to prove that employer defamation has occurred, the defamed party must be able to prove that the other person made the statement in question. The plaintiff must also typically prove that it is either untrue or somehow harmful to the person’s work environment.

For example, an employer seeking redress against an employee for claiming that the employer sexually harassed him or her must be able to prove that the defendant made the statement, and that it is not true. On the other hand, an employer who reveals to other employees that a co-worker has the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) could potentially be sued for defamation, even if it is true. Since the statement was made in a way that was harmful to the person’s work environment, it may be truthful but still effectively defames the character of the plaintiff.

Employer defamation is often easiest to prove if the statement was made to someone outside of the company, especially in cases against a manager or employer. Written evidence of the defamation is typically needed, or testimony from someone who directly heard the person make the defamatory statement. If employer defamation is proven in a civil case, then the defendant will usually be forced to pay compensatory and punitive damages to the plaintiff and termination within the company may also result from such an incident. Should a person bring a defamation suit against his or her employer and it is not proven, then he or she may potentially face censure from within the company including termination of employment for insubordination.

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