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Employment Related Defamation of Character

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What Is Defamation of Character?

Defamation of character is the legal term for harming someone's reputation by making false statements. To prove defamation, a plaintiff must show:

  • The statement reflected negatively on the plaintiff’s reputation
  • The statement clearly referenced the plaintiff
  • The statement was communicated to a third-party who understood it
  • The statement actually damaged the plaintiff’s reputation
  • That the statement was false 

Defamation is often divided into slander and libel:

  • Slander is non-broadcasted, verbal defamation
  • Libel is defamation in writing or some other permanent form, such as a radio or television broadcast

What Is Employment Related Defamation?

Employment related defamation of character occurs when an employer makes false statements about an employee to a third party, such as a background check agency or a prospective employer. Defamation issues can also arise in the workplace if an employer defames an employee to create an excuse to fire him or her. This can also give rise to a wrongful termination claim.

Statements of Fact vs. Statements of Opinion

To qualify as defamation a statement must be factual, not an opinion.

  • If an employer says you are a bad worker, this is a statement of opinion, and cannot be considered defamation even if it is completely untrue,
  • If an employer says you stole money from the company, and this is untrue, this is a statement of fact, and can be considered defamation.

However, a statement of opinion may be defamatory if it appears to be based on specific facts that would be defamatory if shared.

An employer saying you shouldn’t be trusted to handle cash implies personal knowledge of specific misconduct, and could be considered defamation.

Exception for Bad References

Many states protect statements made as part of an employment reference as privileged. Unless the plaintiff can prove that their former employer knew the statement was false, or that the statement exceeded the scope of what should be included in an employment reference, recovery for a bad reference is unlikely.

Can I Sue My Former Employer for Defamation?

In most states, you can bring a defamation lawsuit against your employer. If you have been the victim of employment related defamation of character, you should contact an employment attorney. Defamation can be difficult to prove if it was made behind closed doors, but an experienced employment attorney can examine the facts and determine whether you have a case and are entitled to compensation.

Photo of page author Alezah Trigueros

, LegalMatch Legal Writer and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 03-05-2018 12:00 AM PST

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