Defamation is illegal. In fact, courts have long recognized that “society’s interest in redressing the harm done to one’s reputation is strong.” McCoy v. Hearst, 42 Cal.3d 835 (1986). The right to seek damages for harms caused by defamation is a well-recognized “concept at the root of any decent system of ordered liberty.” McNair v. Worldwide Church of God, 197 Cal.App.3d 363, 374-75 (1987). If you are victim of workplace defamation, you should consult with a workplace defamation lawyer immediately.

In the context of employment law, the most common types of defamation are (1) false statements about job performance, (2) false accusations of misconduct, and (3) negative references to a subsequent employer.

fake news defamation

What is Defamation?

To prevail on a defamation claim, a plaintiff must show (1) a false statement, (2) that was “published,” (3) that caused harm, and (depending on the particular case) (4) fault or malice.

The plaintiff is required to prove that the defamatory statement was false. Truth is an absolute defense in defamation claims. This is the most important thing to keep in mind when considering whether to bring a defamation claim. If the statement is harmful but true, you will lose.

Opinions typically do not qualify as defamation because they are not false. For instance, “I don’t like [name]” may be a mean statement, but it is presumably a true statement of the speaker’s opinion. This is not defamatory.

“Publication” means that the disparaging statement was shared. In th employment context, publication may be “internal,” or within the company. The speaker need not share the defamatory statement with those outside the company.

“Harm” can be monetary or emotional. It is important that plaintiffs in defamation cases keep thorough documentation of the harm they suffer. For instance, employees sometimes suffer stress-related symptoms like panic attacks or depression after learning of a defamatory statement by their employer. It is the plaintiff’s obligation to justify the damages, which is much easier to do with thorough documentation.

Defamation, libel, and slander are all legal claims that require the same showing. Libel refers to written defamatory statements, while slander refers to spoken defamatory statements. Depending on the jurisdiction, libel and slander may have different statutes of limitations.

What is defamation per se?

Defamation per se is a statement that is so obviously harmful that the plaintiff does not need to prove actual damage. These statements are presumed to be harmful. Defamation per se often arises in the employment context because statements about people’s character for truthfulness (i.e., that someone is a liar) and statements about people’s ability to carry out their trade or profession (i.e., that someone is incompetent) qualify.

What are some examples of workplace defamation?

Defamation in the employment context often surrounds a termination. For instance, an employer may defame an employee when attempting to justify an illegal termination. An employer may also disparage an employee when contacted by a future employer for a reference check.

The following are some statements that courts have found to be defamatory:

  • That a businessman had “questionable ethics”
  • That a City Manager was “incompetent”
  • That an engineer was “not a competent engineer” and was a “traitor to the company”
  • That an attorney was a “crook,” “thief,” and running a “scam”
  • That a loan officer was fired because he “lacked regard for customer’s privacy” and bank “received a number of customer complaints about him”
  • That a corporate officer was “unscrupulous,” “a parasite in the organization” who “did nothing,” that he was “proud, snobbish, and vain,” that he was “insane in command” and “unable to assume responsibility and direction of groups”
  • That a former employee “misused company funds” and “falsified invoices”
  • That a school superintendent received “kickbacks” and engaged in “shady dealings”
  • That a doctor was “incompetent” and “needs more training”
  • That a union officer was “the subject of a long investigation” and a “discredited leader” who had engaged in “underhanded schemes”

These are just examples. Employers find new and creative ways to discredit employees all the time.

What are the damages in a workplace defamation case?

Workers who prevail in workplace defamation cases have won up to $10 million. The amount recovered will vary greatly depending on the offensiveness of the statement, whether it was made with malicious intent, and the actual damages suffered. A workplace defamation lawyer will help you maximize your damages but collecting evidence and proving up the employer’s misconduct.

Contact a Workplace Defamation Attorney Today

King & Siegel LLP’s workplace defamation lawyers are leading voices seeking justice for wronged workers. Our attorneys graduated from top law schools, including Harvard, Columbia, Stanford, NYU, and Berkeley. We are seasoned advocates and fearless trial lawyers who have recovered over $75 million on behalf of wronged workers in just six years.

Contact us today for a free, no-risk case review. We work on a contingency basis and you only pay if we win.