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Employee Right - Defamation

Defamation is an intentional false communication that injures another person’s good name or reputation. To amount to defamation, the communication must be published or spoken.

Defamation law prohibits libel and slander. Libel is when the employee is defamed in writing, and slander is used for oral defamation. The employee may press charges of defamation when the ex-employer provides discriminatory job references to prospective employers, which may cause harm to the employee. In an employment setting, if the employee is wrongfully accused of misconduct, sexual harassment, dishonesty, negligence, etc., verbally or in writing, the employee has a valid reason to file charges of defamation against the employer or the accuser. In case the employer does not investigate the defamatory remark(s) fairly, both the employer and the accuser are held accountable.

Defamatory statements are often made to outsiders, about the employee’s job performance or problems on the job. A third party is shown the employee’s personnel file and performance evaluations, but the file may have untrue derogatory comments or incorrect evaluation records.

Most states recognize a valid defamation lawsuit when false written or spoken words are communicated to a third party and disparage a person of his trade, office, or profession, and when the employer or ex-employer negligently failed to check the accuracy of such information.


  • If the employer makes a mistake in providing a reference by looking at the wrong file, and later corrects the mistake, then the employee does not have the right to press charges of defamation.
  • If the employer shares their opinion about the employee’s wrongful conduct to another person; an opinion cannot amount to defamation.
  • If the employer disseminates defamatory but true information about the employee.

Employers are also entitled to “qualified privilege” that allows them to make statements about their employees regarding discipline, termination, and references to prospective employers. However, it does not give employers the right to knowingly make false statements about employees or ex-employees.

The employee must have enough proof to prove that a false statement was made. It is advisable to consult a labor attorney to analyze the situation. However, damages do not have to be proved in all instances. The law treats certain statements as defamatory per se; here the employee need not have to prove to win a verdict.

Defamatory per se statements

  • Accusing a person of serious misconduct in his/her profession.
  • Imputing to a person the commission of a criminal offense.
  • Charging a person with dishonesty.
  • Accusing a person of serious sexual conduct.
  • Stating that a person has a loathsome or deadly disease.
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