defamation of character in the workplace

Defamation of character in the workplace can cause you to suffer financially and damage your reputation and standing. 

Defamation of character claims involves balancing the free speech of employees with the public interest in shielding employees against having their reputation ruined.

To protect workers from the consequences of defamatory statements, California has legal protections for workers to provide them with recourse.

California law also prohibits employers, or someone acting on behalf of the employer, from attempting to prevent an employee from getting a new job. 

What Is Workplace Defamation of Character?

California has laws against slander in the workplace.

In California, former or current employers or coworkers commit defamation if they “publish” a false statement about you and cause you to suffer damages.

In the realm of defamation, “publish” means communicating a false statement to others verbally or in writing.

Written publication includes writing the statement in an email or newspaper, or representing the statement as a picture.

If you’re considering suing for defamation of character at work, speak with a defamation attorney to understand your rights.

They can evaluate your situation and determine if you have a claim for defamation of character.

California has a short, one-year period in which you can bring a defamation claim. A defamation attorney can explain what deadlines apply to your case.

What Is an Example of Defamation of Character?

Let’s say that you are applying for a new job at a bank.

If your former employer lies to your prospective employer, representing that you stole a substantial amount of money from the business and were fired because of it, then you may have a slander claim.

Part of whether you have a claim depends on whether the employer’s statement was the reason you did not get the position.

How to Prove Defamation of Character

Workplace defamation encompasses two broad types of legal claims: libel and slander.

Libel is defamation involving the written word or a “fixed medium.” Slander involves verbally communicating defamatory statements to third parties.

To have a claim of defamation in the workplace, you typically must prove:

  1.  Your employer or co-worker made a defamatory statement in writing (libel) or verbally (slander);
  2. You experienced hatred, ridicule, or damage to your reputation because of the false statement, or it negatively impacts your ability to perform your work;
  3. The statement made by your employer is false;
  4. Your employer communicated the statement to others; and
  5. When the employer made the statement, they knew or should have known it was false.

Defamation laws balance freedom of speech with the need to protect individuals from having harmful lies told about them.

If the statement is true, then you may not have a defamation of character claim.

A person’s opinion about another, or even insults, generally do not qualify as defamatory statements.

If, however, the person represents that the false statement is factual (rather than an opinion), this may constitute defamation.

Certain statements, such as privileged communications, are exempt. Statements made during legislative sessions or during someone’s official duty, for example, are privileged.

Speak with a defamation lawyer to determine whether this applies to your situation.

Libel in the Workplace

Included in libel is “libel on its face.” Libel on its face encompasses defamatory statements that do not require additional information to prove that they are damaging.

If the defamatory statement made by your employer does not qualify as libel on its face, then you will need to prove that you have suffered special damages.

To do so, you typically must show that you lost money, property, or work opportunities.

Special Rules About Slander in the Workplace

In California, you may also have a claim that you were slandered at work if, for example, the person broadcast the false statement on the radio (or similar means).

If your employer broadcast the statement, then California’s slander law has special rules about the content of the statement for it to be defamatory.

For example, the statement may need to falsely charge you with a crime or say that you have an infectious disease.

Is Defamation of Character a Crime?

California’s law recognizes that everyone has the privilege of reemployment.

Under California’s Reemployment Privilege law, it is a criminal misdemeanor for former employers to attempt to use misrepresentations to prevent you from getting another job.

If this applies to you, you may also be able to file a civil lawsuit. If your lawsuit is successful, those responsible may be liable to pay triple the amount of damages to you.

Contact the Workplace Rights Law Group Today

If you experience libel in the workplace or people at your former workplace are purposely giving you bad references that are preventing you from getting a new job, you need the experienced advocates at the Workplace Rights Law Group.

We pride ourselves on self-limiting our caseload to make sure we have the time to give you compassionate, personalized legal representation.

Call us today at 818-844-5200.