Defamation and Libel in the Workplace

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Employers may find themselves facing liability for a number of acts in the workplace, including defamation in the workplace. Additionally, they may be held vicariously liable for the acts of their employees. 

Defamation  

Defamation occurs when a person's character or reputation is damaged because of a false statement by another. In the context of the workplace, defamation may injure an employee's reputation or career because of a coworker's or manager's false statement. A successful employee claim for defamation in the workplace requires showing that someone made a false and defamatory statement about another, this statement was published to a third party, the party making the statement was negligent and the person about whom the party was communicating was harmed. For a claim to be actionable, the party making the statement must have made a statement of fact and not just rendered an opinion. Typically, the statement must be more damaging than a petty rumor. Certain forms of communication may be protected, such as an employer performance review or statements made by an employer who was called as a reference.

The employee may be entitled to damages when he or she is damaged, including monetary compensation for damage done to the victim's career and emotional trauma.

Libel

Libel is a published false statement that is damaging to a person's reputation. It often is differentiated between other forms of defamation as a written form of defamation. This includes defamation by memos, emails, text messages or newsletter publications. 

Employment Policies

Employers may choose to implement policies to protect their interests and to avoid any claims of defamation in the workplace. These policies may include discouraging spreading rumors in the workplace, listing prohibited employee conduct related to defamation and establishing a framework for handling claims involving defamation in the workplace.

If your organization is faced with a claim of defamation, your response to the allegations should depend on the facts of the case.  A workplace investigation is the most cost effective way to assist your legal team in determining what really happened.  Additionally, investigative results set the employer up to make internal control changes that prevent future defamation allegations.

Cite this article: Lynch, N. (2017). Defamation and Libel in the Workplace. Available: https://www.lynchlf.com/blog/defamation-and-libel-in-the-workplace/


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