Defamation is an area of law that aims to remedy situations where someone’s words cause harm to another person’s livelihood or reputation. Libel is a defamatory statement that is written or published, whereas slander is a defamatory statement that is spoken.

Defamation law is an attempt to balance the freedom of speech without fear of litigation, with disallowing people from ruining others’ reputations or livelihoods with lies.

Proving Defamation Through Libel or Slander

Laws vary amongst states, but generally, there are rules that an individual must prove to show that a statement is defamatory. A statement may be considered defamatory if it was:

  • Published
  • False
  • Injurious
  • Unprivileged

The term, “statement,” refers to something that can be spoken, written, pictured, or gestured. In reference to a statement that is published, it means that a third party saw or heard the statement, but it does not necessarily mean that it was printed in a book or magazine. It can be radio, speeches, television, social media, or even loud conversation.

Defamatory statements must also be false, because true statements are not considered damaging to others. A plaintiff must also prove that the statement harmed her or him. For instance, she lost work because of the statement, or he was shunned and harassed by neighbors because of defamatory remarks.

The defamatory statement must also be unprivileged. This means, in some circumstances, such as witnesses testifying in court or lawmakers making statements in legislative chamber, they are not liable for statements that would otherwise be defamatory.

Common Employment Situations Where Defamation Claims Arise

There are a few employment situations where defamation claims commonly arise, including:

  • Job References: Employers cannot be untruthful when discussing their former employees. Though they can speak candidly, they should not make untrue remarks on a person’s character or performance.
  • Termination of Employment: Termination or resignation should remain a confidential matter. Employers should not discuss or criticize an employee in the presence of others.
  • Business Communications: It is possible for employers to be held liable for employees who accidentally make false statements regarding business matters, or about other people.

What Can an Employer Do to Prevent a Libel or Slander Lawsuit?

To prevent a libel or slander lawsuit, employers should have established policies and procedures regarding job references, termination and resignation of employment, and business communications. An experienced employment attorney can provide further guidance on creating and implementing such policies.

What’s the Difference Between Libel and Slander?

Typically, libel refers to statements that are written or published, and include statements that are made on radio, audio, and video. Slander involves the oral “publication” of defamatory remarks that are heard by a third party. The distinction between libel and slander lies in the method of publication.

Why Does the Distinction Matter?

Since defamation in the form of libel has a tendency to be more injurious than that of slander, courts tend to look at libelous cases more seriously. In some cases, the distinction between libel and slander is less clear. In these situations, if the defamation is more permanent, such as an article or a recording, then it is more likely that a court will consider it libel.

The reason why the distinction matters, is because in many cases, it comes down to damages. If a plaintiff is able to prove that a statement was libelous “on its face,” then damages are presumed and proving actual specifics and amount of loss (special damages) is not necessary. However, if the statement was slanderous, it is very likely that the plaintiff will have to prove special damages.

Do I Need a Skilled Libel and Slander Attorney?

If you believe you have a claim based on defamation, libel, and/or slander, you should contact a local personal injury lawyer. Your attorney will advise you of your rights and will provide guidance as to how to move forward with your case. Whether you are a former employee who has been treated unfairly, or if you are an employer and you are being sued, an experienced attorney can assist you in this difficult situation.