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What Is Workplace Defamation?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 26 October 2016
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Workplace defamation refers to slanderous or libelous statements made by a co-worker, employer, or employee. In some cases, workplace defamation can result in serious damage to a person's reputation or career, and may be legally actionable. There are several criteria that must be met in order for a statement to be considered legally defamatory; since defamation laws vary by state, it is generally best to consult with a local attorney to determine if a case of defamation is actionable.

In many cases, workplace defamation occurs when an employee leaves a company or is fired. When called for references, an angry former boss or co-worker may decide to make untrue and harmful statements about the person's character or behavior in order to get revenge or teach him or her a lesson. Workplace defamation can also happen within a workplace, such as when a co-worker deliberately makes an untrue statement about another person in order to void his or her chances of getting a promotion. While defamation may be a common occurrence, legally actionable workplace defamation must meet several important guidelines to be considered for a lawsuit.

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First, workplace defamation must be made as a factual statement, not just an opinion. Opinions are subjective statements made without the benefit of a factual guarantee, such as “I think she's a lazy person”. A factual statement leaves no room for subjectivity, such as “He stole money from the company every week.” Opinions are generally considered a protected form of speech, while statements meant to be factual need to be backed up by actual fact. Additionally, the person accused of defamation must either be knowingly and maliciously lying, or can be shown to be grossly negligent in assuming the truth of a factual statement.

One common criteria for workplace defamation is that the statement must be made to a third party. The third party can be a supervisor, co-worker, reference-checker, or other person affiliated with the company or industry. Written defamatory statements, such as emails, letters, and memos, are called workplace libel. Oral statements, such as those made during a performance review, meeting, or personal conversation, are called workplace slander.

If a person finds out that he or she is being defamed, the first step may be to call a lawyer. While a defamation lawsuit is possible, it may be less expensive and just as effective to have a lawyer write a cease-and-desist letter to the defaming party. This letter lets the defamer know that legal action is on the table should he or she persist in making patently false accusations, and may be sufficient to stop the problem. If defamation continues, an attorney may be able to advise a client on how to proceed with a defamation lawsuit.

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Discuss this Article

anon942895
Post 2

I'm the transportation director. Yesterday, one employee was fired and decided to email my boss saying that I sleep with all the drivers and allowed them to touch me. This is not true. Can I do anything about this?

Tori123
Post 1

I refused to work in a hostile environment and was able to transfer after two employees bullied a manager out of position. Upon transferring, I was asked to work another weekend in the hostile environment while being double scheduled at my new location and old location because they were short staffed; human resources asked me to work in my old location and when I refused they allowed me to work the following day in my new location. However, after one hour of my shift, the front end manager wanted to meet with me and discuss an investigation she received by email that morning from my old location. After I wrote my statement, I was placed on an investigative leave and

walked out of my new location.

The investigation should have been opened and closed. Loss prevention was made aware that a night manager authorized and gave me a gift card because the day manager stated two months prior to ask for assistance in case of an emergency. I told the night manager exactly that. The night manager reported that I said earlier that day the day manager authorized a gift card to me and I was to pick it up that night, which is not what I said at all.

The front end manager reported that I was dishonest, and out of conduct for several policies, and she reported I coerced the manager into giving me the card and that the day manager was her friend and that she would never break a policy and that I stole from the company. I believe she was accusing me of theft.

I am still under investigation and it has been three weeks since the incident. I am going to get an employment lawyer and contact the EOCC. I believe this is slander and malice. They were mad because I refused to work in their store so they accused me of stealing when the day manager gave me permission to ask for help, which is exactly what I did.

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