Employers who offer references to current and former employees may be exposed to liability for a wide range of things. One example is when an employer injures a former employee's reputation by making false statements about that employee. The employee may then sue the employer for defamation.
How to Establish a Case of Defamation against a Former Employer
There are five elements that must be proven by the employee to succeed. They are:
- The employer made a defamatory statement: A statement is generally considered defamatory if it harms the former employee's reputation by lowering him in the estimation of the community or deters third parties from associating or dealing with him.
- The employer published the defamatory statement to a third party: Publication may be verbal or non-verbal.
- The employer's statement was false: Generally, the duty to prove that a defamatory statement is false falls on the former employee. He must show specific facts demonstrating that his former employer's statements were not well-grounded.
- The employer was at fault in making the false statement: The fault an employee must prove is based on the extent of the employer's knowledge that his statement was false.
- The false statement caused injury to the employee's reputation: An employee must prove that his injuries would not have occurred if not for his employer's false defamatory statements.
What Are Some Examples of Defamation by an Employer?
Although you will want to consult with an attorney to determine whether your exact situation is sufficient to support a cause of action for defamation, a few examples of possible situations that are likely to result in a successful claim are:
- An employer falsely portraying a former employee as an individual who discriminated against a certain class of people (i.e. African Americans)
- An employer falsely alleging that an employee made threatening statements, firing him, and then telling future employers that employee had a history of making such statements
- An employer telling a third party that his former employee had done a bad job when there was substantial evidence to the contrary
- An employer telling a third party that a former employee's constant alcohol abuse makes him not dependable as an employee
Do I Need an Attorney?
Your best option is to contact an employment lawyer. Your attorney can advise you of your rights and let you know if you may be entitled to collect compensation in a lawsuit against your former employer.