What is Employee Defamation?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Employee defamation involves an employee's reputation being damaged in the workplace.
Employee defamation involves an employee's reputation being damaged in the workplace.

Sometimes referred to as employee defamation of character, employee defamation is a situation in which a current or former employer makes a false statement regarding the employee that ultimately creates hardship for that individual. The hardship may take the form of causing the employee to be subjected to public ridicule, damage the business or personal reputation of the individual, or even cause a former employee to lose the opportunity to secure a position with a new employer. Depending on the laws that apply in the jurisdiction where the false statement was made, the defamation may be explicit or implied.

Defamation about a former employee can make it hard for them to find new work.
Defamation about a former employee can make it hard for them to find new work.

In order for employee defamation to occur, it is necessary to establish that the statement made by the employer was in fact untrue. When the employer makes direct allegations, it is relatively easy to prove or disprove the statements. For example, if the employer states that the employee was always late reporting for work, and company records indicate the employee was only late twice in the last year, it is possible to determine the employer’s statement was false and intended to defame the work ethic of the employee.

In order for employee defamation to occur, it is necessary to establish that the statement made by the employer was in fact untrue.
In order for employee defamation to occur, it is necessary to establish that the statement made by the employer was in fact untrue.

Proving employee defamation may be somewhat more difficult if the statement made by the employer was suggestive, but open to more than one interpretation. With an indirect statement that appears to cast doubts on the employee’s honesty or work habits, a judge or court may find it necessary to learn more about the setting and context in which the statement was made. Doing so would help to determine if the remark was meant to harm the reputation of the employee or if there was some other mitigating circumstance that would alter the meaning and intent of the words.

Printed or written employee defamation may be classified as libel.
Printed or written employee defamation may be classified as libel.

While the type of statements that would be considered employee defamation vary from one jurisdiction to the next, it is not unusual for applicable statements to be classified in one of two categories. In the event that the statements in question were documented in some type of printed or written format, the employee defamation is classified as libel. Should the statement be presented orally, the defamation is classified as slander. In the case of slander, testimony from other parties present may be presented to deny or affirm that the employer made the statement, using the same verbiage as claimed by the employee.

Many jurisdictions do provide for a limited number of instances in which an employer is protected from prosecution, even if the employee defamation occurs with malice aforethought. There are three settings where this special or absolute privilege may be extended: statements made on unemployment compensation applications, written responses to subpoenas, or statements made during a hearing with an employee board or governmental human rights committee. Since laws regarding employee defamation do vary somewhat from one area to another, seeking legal counsel when an employee believes that false statements made by a current or former employer have resulted in some type of damages is essential to determining if there is some type of recourse available for the employee.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including MyLawQuestions, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including MyLawQuestions, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

Discussion Comments

anon148039

can i sue my ex employer of wrongly accusing me of stealing and would that be defamation of character?

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    • Employee defamation involves an employee's reputation being damaged in the workplace.
      By: lightwavemedia
      Employee defamation involves an employee's reputation being damaged in the workplace.
    • Defamation about a former employee can make it hard for them to find new work.
      By: BlueSkyImages
      Defamation about a former employee can make it hard for them to find new work.
    • In order for employee defamation to occur, it is necessary to establish that the statement made by the employer was in fact untrue.
      By: hin255
      In order for employee defamation to occur, it is necessary to establish that the statement made by the employer was in fact untrue.
    • Printed or written employee defamation may be classified as libel.
      By: LuckyImages
      Printed or written employee defamation may be classified as libel.