Workplace Defamation – A Basic Overview

Since many terminated and current employees ask about it, I thought I might dive into the treacherous waters of defamation in the workplace.  Defamatory conduct in the workplace may occur, for example, when a discharged employee is removed from an employer’s premises by security personnel, creating the false impression that the employee had committed a crime.  Other times, a terminated employee may find out that a former employer is making, what the employee feels, are false statements about how the employment relationship ended or how the employee performed.

Let’s start with some basics – defamation is the unprivileged publication of a false statement tending to harm the reputation of another person.  The elements necessary to prove defamation are:

  • First, the content of the communication must be false, must contain an assertion of fact, not an opinion; and must reasonably be understood as negative.
  • Second, the communication must be “published” which essentially means that the statement was: (a) written (libel) or spoken (slander), (b) by the employer or its agent(s), (c) to at least one other person (not the plaintiff), and (d) the recipient understood the statement.

Publication occurs when a statement is communicated to any person other than the party defamed.  Publication may occur when one supervisor makes a false statement about the employee to another supervisor (e.g., a statement made by an employee’s former supervisor to his current supervisor that plaintiff had “misused company funds” was found to satisfy the publication requirement.)

  • Third, the employee must show that the statement or conduct referred to him or herself. There is no requirement that the statement refer to the person by name.  A statement “refers” to an employee even if the recipient of the communication mistakenly, but reasonably, understands that the statement was intended to refer to the defamed party.
  • Fourth, intent or “malice” may be required to overcome many of the qualified privileges granted to employers.
  • Finally, the employee must prove that injury occurred because of the communication. Since defamation involves injury to reputation, the employee must show that actual damage has occurred to the esteem that the employee enjoys in his or her community. The one exception is defamation per se where no special damages need be proved.

Asserting and winning a defamation claim from conduct related to the workplace can be quite difficult given numerous privileges and qualifications.

Read more

wage theft lawyer

Wage Theft Is A Big Problem in the Fast-Food Industry, A Survey Finds

Wage theft can occur in any workplace, but it tends to happen more frequently in specific industries compared to others. A survey published in May 2022 revealed that wage theft is a…

READ ARTICLE
worker misclassification lawyer

Matco Tools To Pay 15.8 Million Dollars in a Misclassification Lawsuit

Disclaimer: This article is for information purposes only. McCormack Law Firm is not involved in this class action. Worker misclassification remains a serious issue in California. When employers misclassify employees as independent…

READ ARTICLE
wage theft lawyer

Google Contractors Blame Recruiting Firm For Systemic Wage Theft

Silicon Valley tech companies have been in the news lately over accusations of gender discrimination, harassment, and toxic work environments. This time, Google is facing allegations that its contractors are subjected to…

READ ARTICLE
employee misclassification lawyer

Red Robin Assistant Manager Files Class Action Over Unpaid Overtime and Missed Breaks

Disclaimer: This article is for information purposes only. McCormack Law Firm is not involved in this class action. California employees can be classified as exempt or non-exempt, and there are important differences…

READ ARTICLE
SEEN ON
Fox40-bw
KPIX-bw
SFGate-bw
marin-ij
Abc10-bw